How Quickly Will Bibi’s Coalition Blow Up?

Republicans aren’t the only conservatives facing a budget crisis. Even as he labors to put together the right-wing coalition government he called early elections to ensure, Benjamin Netanyahu will have to come to grips with the strong possibility that crafting a budget will expose its internal contradictions. At the Monkey Cage, University of Wisconsin Professor of Israel Studies Nadav Shelef explains:

While there are few ideological obstacles to the formation of a narrow religious-right government, it is unlikely to be stable. If the current allocation of votes to actual Knesset seats holds, the coalition would number around 66 members of the Knesset. Although this number meets the 61 seats needed to sustain a coalition, the survival of such a government would depend on its ability to maintain the support of each and every coalition partner. Such a coalition has traditionally led to weak, unstable governments that struggled to make firm or consistent decisions.

This is likely to come to a head as soon as discussions of the budget begin. Kulanu ran entirely on a program promising a redistribution of resources to the middle and lower middle classes. Some of the resources to do so may come from deregulation, taking economic rents away from monopolies and other efficiencies. However, significant government investment in the human capital and material infrastructure of Israeli society and a corresponding shift in the allocation of Israel’s budgetary priorities would also be needed to significantly decrease the cost of living or make a real change in the lives of the Israeli middle and lower middle class. However, a narrow religious-right government is unlikely to be able to carry out such a reallocation of resources. As a condition to their membership in the coalition, the religious parties will likely insist on the continued allocation of, if not increase in, significant resources to the ultra-Orthodox population and to the settlements. Moreover, Netanyahu is likely to continue his refusal to consider cutting the defense budget, increasing the deficit or raising taxes – a position which helped trigger the March 17 elections in the first place. This means that the long-term stability of the government essentially depends on one of the coalition parties giving up a core aspect of its platform. While such a government could limp along, a more likely outcome is continued governmental instability.

And that’s entirely aside from the pressures associated with the international isolation Bibi has invited. Shelef’s conclusion is that the new Netanyahu government will have a short life: “So, get ready to do all of this again in a couple of years.”

For all its weaknesses, our own system, with its winner-take-all features and fixed terms of office, has some advantages after all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.