Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Mating Dance of the Israeli Party Leader

The elections are behind us, and the final count is in. Ehud Olmert of the Kadima party now has the job of putting together a coalition.

Those of us who have lived in Israel for awile and have experienced this before can predict pretty much what the coalition will look like - Kadima, Labor, the Pensioners, and Shas. Perhaps Meretz will be in also, and if not, perhaps UTJ. This is mostly a numbers game.

That is not to say that the negotiations that are happening now are not important. Each party leader is trying to strike the perfect balance between not appearing too eager, but not coming off as too hard-to-get either. Each one wants to negotiate the best deal for their party - which will impact their personal political careers. How many portfolios go to each party - and more importantly, which ones, may not impact on Israel's near future - but they will have an impact on how long the government stays in power.

It is somewhat like building a foundation for a house, small cracks here and there don't make their presence felt right away - but eventually they do, and then the house can collapse.

Politicians have large egos, and what may seem to the "little people" to be small slights take on greater proportion in the politicians' own minds. This leads to holding grudges - and when an opportunity presents itself to stick it to the person who slighted them - they grab it. This is part of the reason why Israeli governments don't last very long.

Olmert is making one mistake in this negotiation phase - which he will pay for later. He is ignoring Avigdor Lieberman and the Russian vote. True, Olmert and Lieberman disagree on some basic issues, but Olmert, if he wanted, could come up with a carefully worded compromise to allow Yisrael Beitenu to join his coalition. The fact that he isn't shows that he underestimates the political strength that Lieberman has. This means that he is ensuring a strong opposition.

Arik Sharon was able to implement the disengagement plan because, in addition to the Likud votes he managed to hijack, he didn't have to worry about an opposition. The Labor party wrote him a blank check. Olmert will not have that luxury - between the Likud, as weak as it is, and NU/NRP, and Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, the opposition will be vigorous. As much as both Shas and UTJ need to join the coalition in order to finance their programs, they also know that their constituents do not want unilateral withdrawals. They will go in for the money - but they will not necessarily be staunch supporters later on down the road.

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