Prime Minister Netanyahu & President Shimon Peres (Photo: @IsraeliPM - Twitter)

On February 20th, 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his Likud party lost the popular vote in Israel and still received the mandate to form a government from President Shimon Peres after the Kadima party demonstrated its inability to form a coalition. Netanyahu surprises everyone by offering to bring leading rivals Kadima, which under Tzipi Livni was the largest party and Labor into a unity government while avoiding sitting with any extremist parties on both ends. 

The offer by Netanyahu, despite the fact that it was initially declined by many Labor and Kadima members, remains an example of how broad consensus in the Israeli political system can overcome the smaller internal disputes and disagreements the different parties have. 

Likud had 27 Knesset seats in the newly elected 18th Knesset. Kadima, which was formed by the late PM Ariel Sharon and led by Ehud Olmert and later Ms. Livni, received 28 mandates in the 2009 elections. Labor, which traditionally had been the largest party, dropped to the fourth-largest party with just 13 seats, two behind Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing “Yisrael Beiteinu” party.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the head of Labor in the February elections, immediately declined the offer given to him by Netanyahu and announced his firm intention to lead the opposition against Netanyahu who served with Barak in the same elite IDF unit. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, however, eventually agrees to discuss with Netanyahu, despite their many internal security and financial policy disagreements.

Among the largest differences between the two, Netanyahu opposed the extended Oslo negotiations with the Palestinians and the disengagement from Gaza that was ordered by Kadima PM Ariel Sharon in 2005; Meanwhile, Livni is a big fan of the leftist template for peace negotiations. Netanyahu stresses that his plan as prime minister is not to end negotiations with the Palestinian Authority,  and to redirect those efforts toward the development of the Palestinian economy, infrastructure, and institutions for a fiscally-based peace process. 

In the end, Kadima stays out of Netanyahu’s coalition, and Barak and the Labor Party, who initially harshly refused Netanyahu,  join a Likud-led government with Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, and the Religious Zionist “Beit Hayehudi” party. Netanyahu begins his second term as prime minister on March 31 of 2009. Many say that Ehud Barak voters lost confidence in him for so harshly refusing the Likud’s offer at first, yet still ending up in the coalition after all.

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