New Israeli coalition heading for diplomatic storm


Even before the new government in Israel has been sworn in, it is already on a collision course with the international community and its own judiciary on a range of issues.

The first obstacle that could derail the coalition is the question of settlement-building.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fully aware that governments in Europe and the US are watching closely for his next move on this. An announcement of large-scale building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank could trigger extra diplomatic pressure and perhaps even sanctions.

In such a scenario, it would also be increasingly difficult for the Americans to continue wielding their veto to shield Israel in the Security Council.

The government’s right-wing members have not insisted that the coalition guidelines include commitments to settlement building (this was one of the reasons cited last week by former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman for his decision not to join the coalition).

In return however, Mr Netanyahu has awarded Habayit Hayehudi with control of the Settlement Division, a quasi-governmental agency which funnels much of the budgets to the building projects in the West Bank. In addition, he has agreed to set up a committee, headed by the cabinet secretary, which will try to find a way to legalise settlement outposts currently regarded as illegally built.

In both cases, as well as creating a diplomatic crisis, the government is almost certain to come up against objections by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who has blocked funding to the Settlement Division through the High Court, which opposes legalising the outposts.

Another potential minefield is the controversy over the powers of the Supreme Court. Mr Netanyahu has personally committed himself to passing the “override clause”, which will make it much more difficult for the court to strike down new laws. It would also allow the Knesset to push through legislation that runs against Supreme Court rulings.

In the new Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Mr Netanyahu certainly has a standard-bearer for challenging the court but Kulanu, the second-largest coalition partner with ten seats, is opposed to such moves and it will be very difficult to build a majority for the amendments.

There are those in Likud who believe that Mr Netanyahu is not actually interested passing the amendments. They think that he is merely is trying to keep up the pressure on the Supreme Court in order to accommodate his right-wing partners, but will not go all the way. Whatever his true intentions are, this will almost certainly cause clashes in the new coalition.

One piece of legislation that would have the government at loggerheads with both the court and the international community is the NGO Law, which could severely the ability of human-rights organisations to receive funding from foreign governments.

This proposal will certainly be challenged in the High Court, causing more tension between the judiciary and the Knesset. It is also raising concern among Western European governments which have donated to these groups. Diplomats are already likening the proposed law to measures existing in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

With only 61 Knesset members supporting the new government and a full slate of economic and social reforms being proposed by Kulanu leader and new finance minister Moshe Kahlon, Mr Netanyahu will have to do some very deft political manoeuvring to keep his coalition together while avoiding a brewing diplomatic storm.

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