The Israeli press, especially Haaretz, has carried several critical opinion pieces since the announcement of the joint list and rotation agreement between Labor, led by Isaac Herzog, and HaTnua, led by Tzipi Livni. (On the agreement, see previous post.) One problem with the deal that has been less directly addressed–with one partial exception that I will cite below–is its impracticality. Or, more to the point, its non-enforceability.
When a Prime Minister resigns, as Herzog promises to do after two years, there must be a new government-formation process. Therefore, the deal between two leaders of one list can’t bind the other parties. (It can’t actually bind Herzog, as the first PM under the deal, but that is another matter.)
Let’s suppose that Labor(-plus) does win the most seats in the election, as several polls now suggest is possible if the election were held now. (It is not till March.) Let’s also suppose that Herzog and Livni operate under the best of faith and fully intend to honor the deal by which Herzog steps aside and Livni replaces him. So far, so good. But then comes the problem. The deal would also require the coalition partners who form the Herzog-led government to agree to it. It further requires the coalition partners to uphold the deal after two years, when the “new government” has to be formed (and there would be a new formation process under the terms of the Basic Law, Government, Art. 19). That is a lot of to expect!
So, while the deal may be good in the polls, it has a flaw in its non-enforceability. Will enough Israeli voters buy it to give it a chance? At the moment, the same polls that put Labor ahead also suggest a right-wing government headed by Likud and with Benjamin Netanyahu, is more viable. Being first in seats does not guarantee a party/alliance the right to form a government. Just ask Livni. She has been there before.
The Herzog-Livni deal draws on the precedent of prior arrangements in which the Prime Minister was changed at midterm. However, these really are not very relevant as precedents. In the two previous rotation agreements, it was two separate parties making the deal, and together controlling a majority of the Knesset. While there still would have been the possibility that the party initially holding the top post might renege, the (potential) problem was only one of commitment between the two leaders and their parties. (For overviews of Israel’s “unity” governments, see the Washington Institute’s useful history; the cases involving rotation agreements were 1984 and 1988.) By contrast, the Herzog-Livni agreement is a pre-electoral commitment regarding their own list, but would depend on consent of various other, post-election, coalition partners. More specifically, it would depend on two rounds of bargaining with those partners.
One article in Haaretz went so far as to quote a “source” inside Labor as admitting the rotation deal was not necessarily viable:
Don’t get too upset, sourpuss analysts. The arrangement for a rotation between the two is good for now, for the start of the election campaign…
It has been well received by young voters and women; it conveys confidence and power. When the time comes and Herzog is asked to form a government, he and Livni will sit down and negotiate with the others all options on the table. If Kahlon demands a rotation, that too will be considered. We’re not naïve, and that won’t be a hindrance to forming a government.
Moshe Kahlon is leader of a just-registered new centrist party, Kulanu.
Yes, there will be a lot to consider. In the meantime, maybe it will help get votes, under the assumption that voters do not work through the next steps and all the pitfalls they put in the way of a rotation promise.