Much to Benjamin Netanyahu’s frustration, the Israeli election’s other two main winners, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, looked set to forge a pact over the national service law this week, making it very difficult for the Likud leader’s favoured partner, Shas, to enter the government.
Mr Netanyahu is well known to be against having Naftali Bennett, head of what is now the Knesset’s third-largest party, in a coalition, partly due to tensions left over from the days when Mr Bennett was his chief of staff.
Mr Bennett’s probable deal with Mr Lapid — who heads the Knesset’s second-largest party — means that Mr Netanyahu may be forced to accommodate Mr Bennett in government.
Aside from fact that national service for Charedim seems set to be pushed hard by a linked-up Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, another factor that will make it hard for Shas and the second strictly Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, to enter the coalition is Yesh Atid’s intention to demand two key positions currently held by these parties — the Housing Ministry and chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee. Both positions have been identified as key for diverting funds and benefits to the Charedim, and Yesh Atid has vowed to end these policies.
Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, appears to have already adopted the key planks of Yesh Atid’s platform. The day after the election results, the prime minister announced that his next government would “share the burden”, a euphemism for a new national service law; bring house prices down; and carry out electoral reform — all central elements of Yesh Atid’s manifesto.
A government composed of Likud Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi would have a majority of 62 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset, but the prime minister will try to broaden his coalition. A much smaller party which nevertheless will be courted is Kadima, which has only two MKs. Both Likud Beiteinu and Yesh Atid are interested in absorbing the tiny remnant of what was the largest party in the last Knesset in case Yisrael Beiteinu splits from Likud with their 11 MKs.
In such a scenario, Mr Netanyahu and Likud would be left with only 20 MKs to Yesh Atid’s 19 and Kadima could decide which party will be the Knesset’s largest.
This is one reason why Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defence minister, is being mentioned as a contender to become the next defence minister.
Parties representing a Knesset majority are recommending that the president call on Mr Netanyahu to head the new government. After that, Mr Netanyahu will have three weeks to form a coalition.