The road to a fourth Netanyahu gov’t runs through Haneen Zoabi

The ‘Zionist Camp’ needs the Arab parties in order to form a government. Its decision to vote for disqualifying Zoabi makes that support less and less likely.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands on a tractor at the West Bank settlement of Eli at a campaign event, February 11, 2015. (Photo by
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands on a tractor during a campaign event in the city of Ra’anana in central Israel, February 11, 2015. (Photo by

The Central Elections Commission on Thursday disqualified MK Haneen Zoabi and candidate Baruch Marzel from running in Israel’s upcoming elections. The decision is not final without the approval of the Supreme Court, which is not expected to uphold the disqualification.

The Zionist Camp, comprised of the Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s party, reversed its already-reversed position and joined the majority in voting to disqualify Zoabi. Only six votes were cast against disqualifying the Balad MK, which came from Meretz and the Arab parties.

While the disqualification itself is an act of political theater in an election increasingly straddling one axis — whether, and how Zionist each party and candidate is — it may very well have a definitive effect on the next government.

After the elections, the president asks all of the parties in the new Knesset to recommend who should be given an opportunity to form the governing coalition. Taking those recommendations into consideration, the president then chooses the head of one party, who has 42 days to build a coalition of at least 61 MKs.

The president is not compelled to choose the largest party; he can also choose somebody who is likely to be able to form a viable coalition. For example, after the 2009 elections, Tzipi Livni headed the largest party but she was unable to form a coalition so Netanyahu was given an opportunity — and succeeded.

This is where the Zionist Camp’s vote to disqualify Haneen Zoabi comes into play as perhaps the biggest gamble of its campaign.

Where the polls stand today, the Zionist Camp doesn’t have a large enough block of parties to form a coalition but if it is nevertheless chosen to form a government, it could pull in some of the centrist parties that are more flexible about what type of government they are willing to sit in.

In order to be given the chance to form a government at all, however, they would need the support of the Joint List of Arab parties. By voting to disqualify one of the Joint List’s members, the Zionist Camp runs the risk of losing their support.

All of that means that even if the Zionist Camp comes out of the elections as the largest party, its best chance of making it into any coalition is to form a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

Netanyahu certainly doesn’t need the Zionist Camp in order to form a government, but it may appear advantageous to him.

The primary reason cited for calling new elections in the first place was the ungovernability of the previous government. In order to form the coalition, Netanyahu had to bring together a handful of parties with various and often-times conflicting agendas.

Ostensibly, each party has its own red lines, usually articulated in coalition agreements that help set the government’s agenda. With so many parties with so many diverging agendas and their respective red lines, the government is constantly being held hostage by one party or another, on any given issue. If they don’t get their way, they have the power to resign and topple the government.

So while Netanyahu could foreseeably form a government with only right-wing and centrist parties (which would be even more right-wing than the current government), doing so would mean a return to the very ungovernability that tore apart his previous coalition. So the opportunity to form a government with only the Zionist Camp and the ultra-Orthodox parties could be appealing, even if it means making some compromises on key issues like the peace process.

For the Zionist Camp, the gamble is this: Labor leader Isaac Herzog can hope that despite attacking the Arab list in a way that likely demolishes its political red lines that its members will nevertheless support him in forming a government. Otherwise, he is left with only two options: lead the opposition or join a government with Netanyahu, if the latter will have him.

Despite the Zionist Camp’s slogan, It’s us or him, many commentators, including +972’s Noam Sheizaf, have speculated that a unity government comprised of the Zionist Camp and Likud is a very real possibility.

By voting to disqualify Zoabi, Herzog and Livni are increasing the likelihood of that outcome.

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