Secular Center-Right Coalition Looks Likely in Israel

Deal Would Cut Out Ultra Orthodox Parties in Favor of Yesh Atid

by Jason Ditz, January 23, 2013

Speaking today, Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid said he will not “block” a Netanyahu-led coalition government, a phrasing that hints, but perhaps understates, that the most realistic coalition for Israel, in the face of yesterday’s tied vote, involves him joining on.

While analysts were mostly looking at the Far-Right-Ultra-Orthodox Bloc versus the Center-Left-Arab Bloc, and finding a 60-60 split in parliament, later revised to 61-59 in the final count, the prospect of cutting out the Ultra Orthodox parties Shas and UTJ entirely seems more and more plausible, with the outspoken secularist Lapid providing 19 votes to the Ultra Orthodox’s 18, and making 61 seats into 62. Kadima or Tzipi Livni could be brought on board as another centrist member to make it an even bigger majority.

A Netanyahu-Bennett-Lapid government is a very different looking one from what was being anticipated ahead of the vote, and the question of where Bennett and Lapid (and Netanyahu’s joint list number two Avigdor Lieberman) fit in is still to be decided.

Lieberman suggested that Lapid would be a natural fit for finance minister, since his party campaigned heavily on economic issues. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who is leaving parliament after a falling out with Lieberman, suggested Lapid might be a better fit as a foreign minister.

He’d certainly be better received internationally. While Lieberman was bellicose and decidedly undiplomatic, Lapid’s history as a TV anchor makes him a more affable fellow in the first place, and his support for a two-state solution would make him more palatable to the rest of the world. Whether he wants the job is another question however.

And Lapid’s support for the two-state solution could be a big stumbling block for this potential coalition down the road, as while everyone could likely be brought on board for the sake of expanding conscription to the haredim, Bennett ran an explicitly anti-peace campaign, vowing eternal Israeli control over the entire West Bank and calling for the re-settlement of Gaza, while Lapid is pushing for the restart of peace talks.

Netanyahu might be able to defer that landmine for awhile by simply skirting the issue as he has been the last couple of years, giving lip-service to peace while not being in any real talks. Sooner or later, however, something Palestine related is bound to come up, and the two very different views of the conflict are going to come into direct opposition.

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