After the initial surprise, my reaction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political about-face last Wednesday was relief. I strongly objected to the Labor Party entering the government except under conditions of real partnership, and didn’t believe Netanyahu was willing or able to deliver on that.
I was also half-expecting Netanyahu to oust Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and his “troublesome” values, as they manifested over the Elor Azaria affair in Hebron and his backing of the IDF deputy chief of staff, whose concerns about Israeli society he apparently shares.
What I did not expect was the brutality of the move.
Last Tuesday – before the storm – a Likudnik friend of mine tried to convince me that since Netanyahu is acting like an aging alpha male lion, with increasingly distorted survival instincts, and since getting rid of him by democratic means seems an impossible mission at this point, the Labor Party has a patriotic duty to come and protect him from himself, and protect the pride – namely the people – of Israel from the extreme Right.
My answer was that the Labor Party has no patriotic duty to commit both physical and ideological suicide in order to save Netanyahu and what he stands for.
I do not know whether Netanyahu planned his about-face or whether it “just happened.” I expect that for him choosing between Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman was a nightmare.
Having Herzog in the government, especially as foreign minister, would have helped him avoid crashing the ship of state into an iceberg – at least in the international arena – but would have caused him no end of problems with his MKs and voters.
Having Liberman in the government rather than Herzog means that his battle within the Likud will be much simpler – especially now that Ya’alon is also out of the way.
Furthermore, in the government Liberman is unlikely to continue calling Netanyahu a pathological liar, even though in the past few days Netanyahu has made so many contradictory statements that one wonders. We have all heard Netanyahu state that there are no fundamental disagreements between himself and his outgoing defense minister and that his removal of Ya’alon was merely a question of “constraints.”
Ya’alon has stated the exact opposite.
Netanyahu has also stated that he offered Ya’alon the Foreign Ministry, but at the same time has said that he is holding the ministry for Herzog.
The only problem is that there is now no “responsible adult” around to get the national ship back on course.
On the Friday night newsreel on Channel 10 former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak said that he observes “buds of fascism” in the government that do not tally with a vital Zionism. He added that there appeared to be a “hostile takeover” in the government by “factors foreign to the spirit of the state of Israel and the spirit of the IDF” which the prime minister had failed to stop.
The atmosphere of abandon is exemplified, he added, by the fact that a man most suitable for the job of defense minister has been deposed in favor of a man with political abilities but who is totally inexperienced in the sphere of security.
Liberman’s ideological positions seem to disturb Barak less than the 52-page report that attorney general Yehuda Weinstein wrote several years ago to explain why he had decided not to bring charges against Liberman on counts of serious financial offenses – not because the allegations were baseless, but because the investigation had dragged on for too long and the chances of getting a conviction had been disrupted.
So what can be done to thwart the results of Netanyahu’s virtuoso performance? Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, appearing on the Friday night Channel 2 news program, suggested that the opposition parties should unite to react together, and that the Labor Party should put aside its “unimportant” leadership squabbles.
That is political bunk. If an opposition of 59 MKs couldn’t do very much against a coalition of 61, what are the chances of 54 being effective against 66? At this point the only way to stop the new coalition from coming into existence is for Moshe Kahlon to act. True, all recent opinion polls show Kulanu losing three to four of its Knesset seats should elections be held today. However, since Kahlon was one of the main supporters in the coalition of bringing the Zionist Union into the government, as he must realize by now that he has no chance of delivering on his promise of a reduction in the price of housing in a government committed to neoliberal economic principles, and since he has been forced by Netanyahu to bring another biennial budget to the Knesset, despite his reservations – he has nothing to lose by calling it quits and leaving the government.
Should such a move lead to new elections Kahlon will have managed to prevent the total crash of his party, and should he convince Ya’alon and Gideon Sa’ar to join forces with him he might even increase his power.
Does Kahlon have the guts to embark on such a move? Unfortunately, probably not.
The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.