Sunday, March 17, 2013

The new Israeli Coalition

Two significant events happened to occur on the same day, Wednesday last week, namely a new Pope, named Francis, was elected in Rome, and a new Coalition government was agreed in Jerusalem. The Coalition agreement was signed between the three main parties Fri night with one day to spare to the statutory deadline.  They will be voted in on Monday, just in time for the arrival of Pres. Obama.
Some notable aspects of the new Coalition:
  1. The Coalition contains four main parties Likud-Beitanu (31), Yesh Atid (19), Bayit Yehudi (12) and Hatnuah (6).  Kadima (2) will also be included in the Government, making a total of 70 seats.
  2. The Cabinet contains 21 portfolios instead of the former 32 with which PM Netanyahu padded his cabinet with "jobs for the boys."  It was too much and too costly and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid succeeded in forcing Bibi to reduce it.
  3. The haredi and religious parties are not in the government, which is controlled by secular parties, although one of them, Bayit Yehudi, has a strong Jewish religious component.
  4. The religious authorities will be under the control of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who is modern orthodox, and he will likely reform the whole conversion and religious affairs arrangements that have previously been controlled by the ultra-orthodox.
  5. He will also mandate that the core school curriculum be taught in the school systems run by the ultra-orthodox, in order to prepare them for working in the real world rather than depending on government handouts.
  6. The Housing and Construction Ministry will also be under Bayit Yehudi and this will result in the streamlining of increased construction in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
  7. Although Bibi Netanyahu is PM and Likud has the major number of portfolios, Bibi lost a lot of influence in the cabinet and in his own party because of the lack of portfolios he could distribute to his supporters, leading to a future power struggle within Likud.
  8. Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon will be the new Defense Minister replacing Ehud Barak.  He will be even better than Barak and will ensure that the IDF is ready for any eventuality, including a strike on Iran.
  9. All parties agree on the government's position regarding Iran, and there will be no change in policy there.
  10. Although Yisrael Beitanu is in the cabinet, the absence of their leader Avigdor Lieberman, while he fights corruption charges in court, will greatly reduce the influence of this party.  He will be FM if he is exonerated.  If not, who knows?
  11. Although a "two-state solution" remains the government's declared policy regarding the Palestinians, the presence of Bayit Yehudi in the cabinet will ensure that further concessions to the Palestinians will be kept to a minimum unless they agree to enter negotiations without preconditions.
  12. Yair Lapid will be the Finance Minister and this will give him power, but also many headaches.
  13. A universal draft law will be enacted soon by common agreement between the governing parties making national service an equal burden on all segments of the population, incuding the haredim and Arabs. 
  14. Tzipi Livni ("white bird") will be Justice Minister and will be in charge of negotiations with the PA and will try to get maximal media exposure for herself.
As a result of these changes the Government that Pres. Obama meets this week will be a stronger, more confidant one than the previous one.  Note that the US no longer gives Israel any civilian financial aid and the military aid, although important, amounts to only 2% of the total military budget.  Therefore, the US has less means to influence Israeli government policy.  Nevertheless, the President and the PM will see eye-to-eye on most issues that they will discuss.


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