Netanyahu forms government with no votes to spare

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a decisive victory at the polls. Yesterday, he announced that he had finally scraped together a coalition of 61 Knesset members — the bare minimum required — with which to govern.

What happened? In essence, Netanyahu was unable to persuade either of two big party bosses to back him.

Avigdor Lieberman of the right-oriented Yisrael Beytenu (Israel Is Our Home) party leader has served as Netanyahu’s foreign minister. But he decided that his party’s interests and/or his own are better advanced outside of the government, for now.

Yitzhak Herzog of the left-leaning Zionist Union party could have signed on with Netanyahu to form a coalition government. Reportedly, he offered the foreign affairs portfolio to Herzog, but a deal could not be reached because Netanyahu insisted that his longtime rival Tzipi Livni be left out of the coalition. Whether Herzog really wanted a deal is open to debate.

In the end, Netanyahu turned to Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party. The sticking point here was its demand that the controversial Ayelet Shaked be named justice minister.

Formerly a software engineer for Texas Instruments and an office director for Netanyahu, the 39 year old Shaked is a strong opponent of illegal immigration from Africa to Israel. She incurred the wrath of Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogen by posting on Facebook a strongly-worded article denouncing those who stand behind terrorists, including their mothers, and arguing that it is justified to bomb civilians when they give shelter to “evil.”

In a recent poll conducted by the Israeli Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery, Shaked was named best looking member of the Knesset, beating out a former fashion model.

With a mere one-vote majority, Netanyahu’s new government will clearly be vulnerable. In theory, if he loses the support of just one Knesset member, the government could fail.

In practice, Netanyahu might be able to bring in substitute members through deals with Herzog or Lieberman. Moreover, as things stand now, Netanyahu would likely win a new election. This minimizes the prospects that he will be forced to call for one.

The political landscape undoubtedly will change over time, but so too, perhaps, will the calculations of those who resisted joining Netanyahu’s government.