As the Knesset winter session gets underway, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself leading a coalition comprised of numerous moving parts. On three issues facing the Knesset, the majority that Netanyahu will rely on will look different for each.
Netanyahu will need a parliamentary majority to support his diplomatic initiatives, especially if negotiations with the Palestinians progress, something that would put Netanyahu in an awkward position with right-wing ideologues in Likud and Habayit Hayehudi. Netanyahu will need a different majority to pass socio-economic legislation, the focus of which will be the housing prices crisis. And a third majority will be needed to pass an enlistment bill that will equalize the burden of military service. The coalition will be playing a game of rotating chairs.
It is true that Netanyahu enjoys the exclusive status of being the only person in the 19th Knesset thought to be capable of leading the country. And those seeking the No. 2 spot or the title of "prince" -- Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, Silvan Shalom, Gideon Sa'ar, Yisrael Katz and Gilad Erdan -- are not trying to undermine Netanyahu. They are there just in case of an emergency. But while Netanyahu's grip on the leadership position is secure, he will have to work hard to cobble together a majority on all three issues mentioned above.
The situation is clouded by the fate of Avigdor Lieberman. If Lieberman is convicted and a moral turpitude designation is applied, there is no doubt he would leave the political arena and the fate of Yisrael Beytenu would be unclear. But if Lieberman is able to return as a minister in the current government (which Likud officials believe will be the case), he will demand that Likud and Yisrael Beytenu unify into one party. He may threaten to break off Yisrael Beytenu's partnership with Likud if his demand is denied. Parliamentary arithmetic could shorten the lifespan of the current government.
On the other hand, difficulties within the opposition are playing into Netanyahu's hands. The possibility that Labor will join the government after its primary election next month gives Netanyahu "depth" on a number of upcoming Knesset votes. And Shas, which has been forced to remain in the opposition, is not now openly calling for early elections. The leadership of Shas is rife with hostility and infighting and the party is not prepared to go to the polls without amulets bearing the portrait of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Even if Shas pushes for early elections, it will not eagerly await the results.
There is a chance that the government will be able to put together a majority on all three issues, even with all the acrobatics that would be involved and the heavy prices paid that could prompt harsh criticism both from within and outside the coalition. Close to Passover, the Knesset will go on another break. Will the government remain intact until then? As long as the Israeli-Palestinian talks do not cause an irreconcilable rift before then, it appears that a majority of Knesset members, including those in the opposition, will prefer to push off painful decisions until the spring.