Perspective 71. No Majority: Can Israel's Government Hang On?
First a defector from the right-wing of Israel's governing coalition deserts, leaving it in a 60-60 tie with the opposition in the Knesset. Then comes another desertion, this time from the left flank, giving the opposition -- on paper -- a one-vote majority. And though the second defector has recanted, restoring the tie, it is legitimate to ask: can such a badly-divided government with such narrow margins last much longer?
Maybe. The truth is that the opposition, just like the ruling coalition, is composed of clashing components with no common strategy. They may all oppose the current government, but are even less likely to work together.
In perspective, there are precedents for governments without a majority, and they may stagger on for a while before final collapse or scheduled elections. Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak all headed minority coalitions in the 1990s and early 2000s, supported from the outside by Arab parties that were not yet considered viable coalition partners.
To bring down such a government, the opposition has two options. The first, called a constructive vote of no-confidence, requires presentation of an alternative government with the support of a majority. Bibi Netanyahu as leader of the opposition can probably scrape together a slate of 54 likely supporters, still 7 seats short of a majority.
To reach the magic number of 61, then, Bibi would need either a slew of defectors from the current government, or the support of the Arab Joint List, the Arab party in the opposition. Since the Joint List was considered too radical for the current coalition, the chance of it supporting Netanyahu is approximately zero.
The second option is to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections by a simple majority of 61. For two days last week this seemed possible since there were 61 Knesset members, temporarily, in opposition. But this assumes that all members of the opposition want new elections, which may not be the case. Party leaders read the polls, and if it looks like they might lose seats, new elections are suddenly not a great idea.
And that is in addition to the reality that, after four elections in two years, there is little public appetite outside of Bibi's circle for yet another. Five elections in forty months? Enough already.
The opposition consists of Netanyahu's Likud, the extreme-right Religious Zionists, two ultra-Orthodox (haredi) parties, the Arab Joint List, and two defectors. This disparate assemblage is hardly a great base for common action.
On the other hand, if one or two more members of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's own party defect tomorrow, then just ignore the entire content of this message.