Netanyahu Has a Government -- New Elections Behind the Door

05/20/2015 02:48 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016

PM Netanyahu has just seen his fourth government sworn in with the slimmest of majorities, and somehow it is becoming clear that the new government will be very short-lived, perhaps even shorter than the previous one. Altogether, the PM can be satisfied with the fact that he is the second-longest serving PM after the founding father, David Ben-Gurion; also with his ability to defy predictions and polls. But then, a government of sixty one opposed by fifty nine, will not survive for too long. There is almost endless lists of Likud MKs angry at the PM for one or another reason, and all it takes is for one or two of them not being present in the votes of no confidence which will become a near weekly ritual. The coalition partners are fully aware of their strong leverage over the PM and they will not hesitate to use it, and the opposition is very determined to bring down the PM, maybe finally giving a victory to opinion polls of few months ago...

Be that as it may, it is clear that the one issue which the new government will NOT seriously deal with is the Palestinian issue. Who can imagine Netanyahu taking any initiative about that, with Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home party outflanking him from the right, alongside a large group of Likud MKs and ministers who are dead set against any move. There is the potentially explosive Gaza situation, but both the Israelis and Hamas seem exhausted and battle-weary. Surely, Iran and the nuclear program are much on the forefront, an issue on which Netanyahu can receive support from some in the opposition. However, Iran, contrary to the high rhetoric until now, will NOT be THE issue. The reason is that Netanyahu can claim, as he will, that with the US Congress adopting the legislation by which the Iran nuclear deal can be subjected to its approval, Israel has achieved its goal of turning the problem from being only its own into an international issue. Paradoxically, that means that the military option is almost off the agenda, so Iran ceases to be a battle cry for Netanyahu. He is still confronted with the Iranian power with regard to the Sushi war (Sunnis-Shi'is), Hizballah threat and the implications of the possible collapse of the Assad regime in Syria. These are volatile issues, but in dealing with them Netanyahu can expect opposition support, mainly from Avigdor Lieberman.

The most pressing foreign policy issue will be to restore the relations between Netanyahu and President Obama, a task seeming near impossible, though in politics, as in baseball, it is not over until it is over... Netanyahu can quietly celebrate a success, and his supporters do it not so quietly, as regards the Congress decision, pinning it on his speech there on March 3rd. That may be true, but the overall damage to the relationships caused by this speech is here to stay, and if Netanyahu really feels that he proved a point or two, he needs now to show a smiling face towards Obama, much more so to do certain things, which will come some way towards restoring better relations. Here is his catch-22, as gestures towards Obama SHOULD include repeated unequivocal commitment to the two-state solution, a stop for new settlement activity, surely a stop for provocative announcements about new construction projects in the disputed territories. But then, can Netanyahu do all that? I, for one, doubt it. If he wants to maintain his current coalition, he definitely cannot, and if he opts for an alternative coalition with Labor and Yair Lapid, then he may be exposed for a split in his own ranks.

Israeli politics already proves to be unpredictable, hence some caution is needed. However, it is my sense that the 34th government of Israel will not escape the fate of many of its predecessors, and even if a 35th government will replace this one sometime in the near future, the more likely scenario is that of new elections in late 2016/spring 2017. Netanyahu surely is already preparing, perhaps this is one of the secrets of his election successes, his ability to be always ready for the next campaign.