The man who could topple Bibi

Last month, Benjamin Netanyahu squeaked out a narrow election victory over a recently formed party called Blue and White, headed by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz.  Final results gave Netanyahu's Likud party 36 seats to Gantz's 35.

Thus, the nod to form a government was given by President Reuven Rivlin to Netanyahu.  That's the headline.

However, the real story is whether Netanyahu will actually be able to put together a coalition in order to form a government.

In Israel, all governments are coalitions due to the fact that no single party has ever garnered enough votes to obtain a 61-seat majority of the 120-seat Knesset.  Thus, once general elections take place, the party with the most votes begins the process of talking to other parties in order to get them to join in forming a coalition.

This is where the real story takes place.  Compromises and deals have to be made in order to get parties to link up with each other.  In some cases, one individual can end up being in a position of significant influence in the ability of the lead party to form a coalition.  Such a person has the power to make or break a potential coalition.

Enter Avigdor Lieberman.

Last November, Lieberman, who is head of the Yisrael Beteynu party, resigned from the government in protest over two issues.  He was dissatisfied with what he felt have been weak responses by Netanyahu to the reoccurring terror attacks by Hamas.  The other issue is that he has demanded that the Haredim (religious Jews) be required to serve in the military.  Current law has them pretty much exempt from serving.

Netanyahu's coalition included both Lieberman and the Haredim.  Thus far, he has been rather soft on forcing them to serve in the military.  Doing so would risk losing them as a coalition partner.

Lieberman realized that Netanyahu didn't want to push the Haredim, so he chose to step away, which resulted in the collapse of the government and a call for new elections.

While Lieberman and the Haredim are conservative, Lieberman is fiercely secular.  There is no love lost between him and the Haredim.

Fast-forward to April of this year.  The elections are over.  Netanyahu finds himself in an uneasy position of trying to put together a majority coalition of at least 61 seats.  Currently, he has garnered 60 seats, which include the Haredim.  Lieberman's party, which holds five seats, has thus far refused to join the coalition unless Lieberman's demands are met.  In addition to requiring the Haredim to serve in the military, he is demanding the interior secretary Cabinet position.

Due to the difficulty forming a coalition, Netanyahu has already been forced to ask President Rivlin for an extension in an effort to put together a government.  That extension was granted.  The deadline is May 28, which is rapidly approaching.

If Bibi is unable to bring about a compromise between Lieberman and the Haredim and fails to secure the necessary 61-seat majority, President Rivlin may turn to Benny Gantz and give him an opportunity to form a government.  The left-wing parties are aware of this possibility and have already started talking to Lieberman, trying to convince him to join them to form a ruling coalition.

Thus, Lieberman is fully aware of his position as kingmaker, knowing that the formation of the next government is in his hands.

If he abandons the conservative bloc in favor of the liberal one, he will find himself part of an entirely different political landscape.  The liberals are prepared to make huge changes, which include security and territory sacrifices that will put Israel in a risky position.  Such moves play directly into the hands of the Palestinians.  Lieberman will have to think hard about whether joining the left is a wise move.

We should not forget that the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  In other words, they have yet to sign off on even the most radical of offers that previous prime ministers Barak (2000) and Olmert (2008) made.

The clock is ticking.  Bibi may be the prime minister, but Lieberman is clearly the kingmaker.

Dan Calic is a free lance writer, speaker, and history student.

Last month, Benjamin Netanyahu squeaked out a narrow election victory over a recently formed party called Blue and White, headed by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz.  Final results gave Netanyahu's Likud party 36 seats to Gantz's 35.

Thus, the nod to form a government was given by President Reuven Rivlin to Netanyahu.  That's the headline.

However, the real story is whether Netanyahu will actually be able to put together a coalition in order to form a government.

In Israel, all governments are coalitions due to the fact that no single party has ever garnered enough votes to obtain a 61-seat majority of the 120-seat Knesset.  Thus, once general elections take place, the party with the most votes begins the process of talking to other parties in order to get them to join in forming a coalition.

This is where the real story takes place.  Compromises and deals have to be made in order to get parties to link up with each other.  In some cases, one individual can end up being in a position of significant influence in the ability of the lead party to form a coalition.  Such a person has the power to make or break a potential coalition.

Enter Avigdor Lieberman.

Last November, Lieberman, who is head of the Yisrael Beteynu party, resigned from the government in protest over two issues.  He was dissatisfied with what he felt have been weak responses by Netanyahu to the reoccurring terror attacks by Hamas.  The other issue is that he has demanded that the Haredim (religious Jews) be required to serve in the military.  Current law has them pretty much exempt from serving.

Netanyahu's coalition included both Lieberman and the Haredim.  Thus far, he has been rather soft on forcing them to serve in the military.  Doing so would risk losing them as a coalition partner.

Lieberman realized that Netanyahu didn't want to push the Haredim, so he chose to step away, which resulted in the collapse of the government and a call for new elections.

While Lieberman and the Haredim are conservative, Lieberman is fiercely secular.  There is no love lost between him and the Haredim.

Fast-forward to April of this year.  The elections are over.  Netanyahu finds himself in an uneasy position of trying to put together a majority coalition of at least 61 seats.  Currently, he has garnered 60 seats, which include the Haredim.  Lieberman's party, which holds five seats, has thus far refused to join the coalition unless Lieberman's demands are met.  In addition to requiring the Haredim to serve in the military, he is demanding the interior secretary Cabinet position.

Due to the difficulty forming a coalition, Netanyahu has already been forced to ask President Rivlin for an extension in an effort to put together a government.  That extension was granted.  The deadline is May 28, which is rapidly approaching.

If Bibi is unable to bring about a compromise between Lieberman and the Haredim and fails to secure the necessary 61-seat majority, President Rivlin may turn to Benny Gantz and give him an opportunity to form a government.  The left-wing parties are aware of this possibility and have already started talking to Lieberman, trying to convince him to join them to form a ruling coalition.

Thus, Lieberman is fully aware of his position as kingmaker, knowing that the formation of the next government is in his hands.

If he abandons the conservative bloc in favor of the liberal one, he will find himself part of an entirely different political landscape.  The liberals are prepared to make huge changes, which include security and territory sacrifices that will put Israel in a risky position.  Such moves play directly into the hands of the Palestinians.  Lieberman will have to think hard about whether joining the left is a wise move.

We should not forget that the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  In other words, they have yet to sign off on even the most radical of offers that previous prime ministers Barak (2000) and Olmert (2008) made.

The clock is ticking.  Bibi may be the prime minister, but Lieberman is clearly the kingmaker.

Dan Calic is a free lance writer, speaker, and history student.