A re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu may face paralysis

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: AP)

Right now, there is only one date that matters for Israel’s future: January 23 — the day after the general election.

So far, the polls have yet to indicate a discernible shift of voters away from the right-wing-religious bloc. It is therefore safe to assume that Benjamin Netanyahu will be the only viable candidate to form a government. At this point, there is no other conceivable majority of Knesset members that will support any other political leader.

But Mr Netanyahu’s options for forming a new coalition are far from simple. If the latest polls are correct, his joint party with Avigdor Lieberman, Likud Beiteinu, will have less than a third of the new Knesset’s seats, which will put him at a disadvantage: any of his possible partners will be able to hold him hostage.

The traditional Likud option has been to form a coalition, if possible, with the national religious party (now rebranded as Habayit Hayehudi) and the Charedi parties: Shas and United Torah Judaism. All the polls show such a coalition holding a clear majority in the Knesset but Bibi would not be eager to be prime minister of such a government.

Habayit Hayehudi is currently at the most right-wing point in the national-religious camp’s history and, along with the radical make-up of his own party, Mr Netanyahu will have no leeway for any diplomatic manoeuvering. In addition, the two Charedi parties are resolutely opposed to any concessions on another major issue facing the next government — national service for yeshivah students.

This would be a coalition that will make it much harder for Israel to deal with its neighbours and its Western allies, including Britain and the US.

Alternatively, Mr Netanyahu could form a coalition with the three centre-left parties which are certain to be in the next Knesset: Labour, Hatnuah, Yesh Atid and — if it manages to scrape across the electoral threshold — Kadima. Such a coalition would allow Mr Netanyahu to undertake a new diplomatic initiative, carry out much needed electoral reforms and draft the yeshivah students. To do so, he would first have to face an ugly insurrection by his own right-wing backbenchers.

Even if he managed to dominate his party, he would still find it difficult to come up with a diplomatic plan bold enough for Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni. Equally tricky would be to agree with Labour’s Shelly Yachimovich on a new state budget that is expected to contain cuts of up to NIS 20 billion (£3.2 bn) in social services. But, were he to overcome these differences, this could be a coalition that could embark on a brave new peace plan, putting the onus back on the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu’s preferred “stable” coalition is one that includes both Likud’s traditional right-wing and religious partners and one or two centrist parties for balance.

But even if he succeeded in getting all these disparate elements to sit in one cabinet room, it would be almost impossible to get them to agree on any major piece of legislation or policy initiative. It would be presented to the public as a national-unity government but would actually be a government of national paralysis.

Last updated: 8:46pm, December 27 2012