Immediately after an election, the President of Israel consults with each party, asking them which large party should have the honor of forming the coalition government. After these consultations, the President nominates a political party to form a coalition based on which party he thinks would be most successful at that task. What the leaders of these parties will tell the President during these consultations is a crucial factor in which party forms the coalition government and which party leader becomes Prime Minister of Israel. The smaller parties, who are likely to be partners, but not leaders, in a coalition, take great care in signaling their preference for who will form the government after the elections.
Some smaller political parties keep their options open and don’t signal a strong preference for one larger party over another. They might give an initial signal of which larger party they would prefer to be in a coalition with. But, because of their particular platform, they won’t rule out joining another party in the coalition on a different end of the political spectrum. The smaller parties that do this most often have platforms that are specific to particular policies and serve specific constituencies.
The Pensioners party is a great example of this. Pensioners was a party formed primarily to protect the benefits that elderly Israelis received. Thus, they did not have a strong preference for participating in a right wing or left wing government, as long as their entrance into the coalition was conditional on protection of these benefits
Other parties signal that they will be natural allies to the larger parties of their political blocs. These parties claim that votes for them will put this larger party in power, but will also tilt the policy preferences of this coalition towards the smaller parties particular political views. Bayit Yehudi’s 2015 Knesset campaign is an object lesson in this kind of political signaling.
In 2015 Bayit Yehudi was a right wing party whose views regarding treatment of Palestinians and security matters were to the right of the larger, more popular Likud party. Bayit Yehudi committed early to joining the Likud in a coalition once the election was over. This gave right wing voters, who agreed with Bayit Yehudi’s extreme views, but wanted to make sure that their votes helped elect a right wing government, permission to vote for Bayit Yehudi. Since Bayit Yehudi would join the Likud in the coalition, their votes would go towards the same right wing government. But, the more seats Bayit Yehudi had, and thus the more pressure they could exert within the coalition, the more this Likud-led government would tilt towards extreme right wing policies and views.
Some parties signal a negative preference for coalition consultations. An example of the following happened in the 2015 election cycle. Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the right wing Yisrael Beytenu party, said that he would refuse to sit in a coalition in with the left wing Meretz party. Why did Lieberman do this? Yisrael Beytenu wanted to attract right wing votes, but hewed to a platform that in some ways was more centrist than the right wing giant, Likud. So, right wing voters would be hesitant to vote for Yisrael Beytenu if they thought that this party would use its electoral power to form a coalition with centrist and left wing parties that would undermine key right wing priorities. By saying that Yisrael Beyetenu would refuse to sit in a coalition with Meretz, Lieberman was assuring right wing voters that giving him electoral support would still guarantee a right wing government.
A key part of the process of forming a coalition is divvying up the ministerial positions within the new coalition cabinet- picking the MK’s who will lead the various state-agencies who will have executive power in Israeli society. These ministerial positions include: Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, Education Minister, Health Minister Finance Minister, etc.. Parties in the elections and in the post-elections process actively signal their preferred ministries.
The constituencies that support smaller parties, often care more deeply about some aspects of the state administration than others. Haredi parties seek to preserve laws guarding the religious primacy of strict Orthodox Judaism and want to make sure that their separate school system, that runs on state funds, is not secularized. Thus, Haredi parties often declare their intention to have their prominent MK’s assume the heads of the Interior Ministry and Education Ministry.
Other smaller parties run with the purpose of elevating a specific politician to a particular cabinet position. Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party are a prime example of this. During the last election cycle Kahlon, who had had success as a Likud Minister reforming the Israel telecom industry, pitched himself as an innovative reformer who could solve the economic problems of the State of Israel. Kahlon, therefore, signaled strongly in his campaign that he wanted to become the Finance Minister when the coalition was formed after the election. This helped Kulanu attract voters who wanted Kahlon to be Finance Minister.
The ministerial preferences of these Kulanu-like parties are also motivated by efforts to further credential particular politicians for future elections. In the State of Israel politicians are often seen as more serious contenders if they have ran one of the three most important Israeli ministries: Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Finance Ministry. Therefore, in coalition talks following an election, these smaller parties make their participation contingent on their party’s head receiving one of these ministries. This is a tricky negotiation in some ways, because the presumptive Prime Minister and head of the larger political party in the coalition might be reluctant to give a prominent ministry to a political rival. On the other hand, not giving up this prominent ministry could risk that potential coalition partner sitting in opposition and thus lessening the stability of the new coalition.