News / Middle East

Tortuous Coalition Talks May Force Israelis Back to Polls

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.
x
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.
Reuters
The slow pace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition building, held up by disputes over state benefits for ultra-Orthodox Jews, has raised speculation that Israel may be forced into a new election.

Netanyahu's right-wing Likud-Beitenu ticket won 31 seats in an election on January 22, more than any other party, but far short of a majority in the 120-member parliament.

President Shimon Peres asked Netanyahu to form a government for what would be his third term in office.

After weeks of negotiating with political rivals, however, Netanyahu so far has reached a deal with just one other party, the centrist Hatnuah led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which brings six seats to his coalition.

Closing window

Netanyahu has until early March to find enough partners to form a government, but can ask for a single, two-week extension. If he still has not secured a majority after that, Peres could hand the job to another party leader, but if no government emerged, Israelis would have to go to the polls again.

Yossi Verter, a political commentator for the left-wing daily Haaretz, wrote on Friday that the coalition talks appeared particularly fraught.

"As the days go by and the clock ticks toward the end of the mandate, the emotions, paranoia, hate and passions are just intensified. Usually in processes such as this, time heals, enmities calm, understandings come about, differences are resolved and trust is built. Not this time," he wrote.

A main sticking point in negotiations, party officials have said, is the future of state stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jews and military exemptions now granted to Jewish seminary students.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties, powerful political players for decades, took a hit in the election from the rise of new centrist party Yesh Atid, which wants to end those perks.

Incompatible partners?

Yesh Atid [There is a Future], headed by former TV star Yair Lapid, is the second largest party. It has formed an alliance with Bayit Yehudi [Jewish Home], a large pro-settler party headed by high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett.

Both have many newcomers to Israeli politics in their ranks, which was part of their allure to voters.

Political commentators say Netanyahu wants ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, which probably would exclude Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, whose policies the ultra-Orthodox reject.

"Netanyahu does not want either of them in his government. Not Bennett and not Lapid. This is a mistake, because that would be the government that most of the Israeli public wants," Verter wrote.

The last time a party leader charged with forming a government came up short was in 2008, after then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned. Peres gave Livni the task, but she failed, leading to the election that brought Netanyahu to power.

Two opinion polls in the past two days forecast losses for Netanyahu and gains for Yesh Atid if a new election were to be held.

A poll in the newspaper, Maariv, showed Likud-Beitenu dropping to 28 seats, while Yesh Atid would surge from 19 to 24. A survey released by a parliament television station showed Yesh Atid actually overtaking Likud-Beitenu with 30 seats to its 22.

"If he wants to avoid another election, Netanyahu will have to compromise about having Lapid and Bennett join the government," Maariv's political commentator Shalom Yerushalmi wrote on Friday.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs