Later this month the Knesset is expected to approve a biannual state budget that will all but ensure the survival of the current coalition into 2019. The question will shift to what date between January 1st and November 5th the elections for the 21st Knesset will be held in 2019.
The media and opposition are not really covering the state budget. Instead the media and opposition are covering the public broadcasting saga, the Amona Bill, the Loudspeaker Bill, the German submarines, and events such as the latest fires, and the transition from President Obama to President-Elect Trump.
The days of being able to pull a “stinky maneuver” no-confidence motion to topple a government like former President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres attempted on then Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir in 1990 are over. Over time there have been additional changes to the law to make that impossible unless there are 61 MKs that have ahead of time already come to an agreement on a Prime Minister and cabinet. Since then, the easiest way for the Knesset to topple a Prime Minister and replace a government has become the threat of the Knesset not passing the government state budget. As a direct result the state budget became headline news months ahead of time and previous opposition leaders focused their efforts on defeating it.
Last month, with 2,788 days consecutive days in office, Prime Minister Netanyahu passed Ben-Gurion’s record for the longest consecutive term as Prime Minster. As mentioned in previous Weekend Perspective pieces, Netanyahu can pass Ben-Gurion’s overall time as Prime Minister during this current term. Although Netanyahu’s Likud is tied with Yesh Atid at 24.4 seats in the KnessetJeremy Polling Average, Netanyahu’s current coalition receives 65.7 seats compared to the current opposition that without the non-Zionist Arab parties has just 41.3 seats.
In this biannual state budget Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Kahlon are offering Shas and UTJ the most coalition money they have ever had. Shas and UTJ, therefore, have absolutely no reason to rock the boat. Kahlon, who has obviously signed off on his own state budget, is looking for an extra two years so he can push through his reforms and rebound in the polls. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has finally reached his dream ministerial job and the former Foreign Minister is interested in gaining the national defense experience he will need to run for Prime Minister someday. Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett is still building up his portfolio for an eventual showdown against Liberman and Netanyahu’s Likud successor over the nationalist camp.
The press understands the political reality of Netanyahu’s strength which is why I can understand their decision to ignore for the most part the state budget in favor of the hot topics that will produce ratings and sell papers. After all, the issue of government spending and redistribution of citizens’ tax shekels is not as sexy as discussing German submarines or the Amona situation. Unlike the press, the opposition just seems tired, as if they couldn’t be bothered to even try to read the budget, let alone speak up about it.
Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition parties in the polls and is tied with the Likud for the top party in the land, is a one-man-show. The political environment within his party is a more Gush Dan upper-middle-class Ashkenazi and media savvy version of Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. The other Yesh Atid MKs jobs are to play a supporting role as a media personality based on the needs and desires of their Chairman. It is easy to build for the future when there is a known system in place and the head of the party can avoid internal elections.
Supposedly, the Zionist Union leads the opposition with 24 seats. Coalition Chairman (Chief Whip) Bitan’s job is made easy by the lack of coordination between the four opposition lists on most issues and bills. Over the last few years most of the Labor Party veterans have given up on politics and taken other jobs outside of the Knesset. 17 of Zionist Union’s 24 MKs are in their first or second terms. Many of the seven veterans are considering outside options or shortcuts to avoid tiring political primaries. Shelly Yachimovich officially announced that she is considering running for the Histadrut Labor Union instead of running against Herzog. Eitan Cabel is considering running for his old position as the Labor Party Secretary General to avoid running in another primary. Some say Amir Peretz would drop his potential bid for the Labor leadership if he is offered another reserved slot. MK Nachman Shai has reportedly considered other outside options. The two former IDF COS Ashkenazi and Gantz have avoided any direct political involvement and are not card-carrying-members. Herzog’s main opposition in the Labor leadership race next year appears to be second-term MK Erel Margalit, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai or perhaps Tzipi Livni. Labor is the only democratic party on the center-left where each member can choose their party leader, MK list, and other party institutions such as their Central Committee and local party branch leadership. Herzog is considered a weak leader, the Zionist Union is down to 11 seats in the KnessetJeremy Polling Average, yet no one strong is showing up to try their luck.
The reality of the 2017-2018 state budget that will most likely pass within the next month is that the current right-religious coalition will remain in power for at least another two years, and based on the polls beyond that as well. The Joint List and Meretz are not even pretending to offer an alternative. The Zionist Union is more interested in the Histradrut Labor Union election than their own Leadership Election next year. Meanwhile, Lapid is playing the long game, and Netanyahu is closing in on Ben-Gurion’s more significant record.