It’s a long time since I have had a positive – even tentatively positive – sense of the political scene here in Israel. But here we are now, in a time of real turmoil, which nonetheless has within it the promise of something better than the unfortunate situation we’ve been struggling with.
As surely almost everyone one of my readers already knows, we are headed for elections. Not an opportune time for elections, with all that is going on around us. But better – far better – to see an adjustment in the situation than to continue with the status quo.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a startling decisive move.
He didn’t simply start the process of initiating elections, he fired Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Chair, Hatenua) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Chair, Yesh Atid).
This was very welcome news to many of us. It left me smiling.
Netanyahu had attempted to meet with both faction heads before making his decision. In neither case was the result constructive; as I understand it, the meeting with Lapid was particularly fractious.
The prime minister made it clear, in subsequent statements, that, while he preferred not to go to elections, he was not willing to continue to deal with members of his coalition who constantly and publicly challenged him. Even worse, by today he indicated that Lapid and Livni were attempted a putsch, maneuvering to take over the coalition.
Both Livni and Lapid reacted with anger, denying his accusations and making counter charges at Netanyahu regarding his incompetency. Naturally.
The other ministers in Yesh Atid resigned with alacrity: Shai Piron, Minister of Education; Yaakov Perry, Minister of Science; Yael German, Minister of Health; Meir Cohen, Minister of Social Services.
Lapid said Netanyahu lives in an aquarium.
Livni moaned that, “Now the crazies can run amok.” She fancies herself, in her own words, the gatekeeper of democracy.
In a brief statement to the public last night, Netanyahu said that he did not take this action for narrow personal reasons, but for the good of the country – because it was impossible to lead under current conditions. He asked that the public vote Likud in the coming elections so that the most stable government possible might be formed.
He disbanded the government, and called party heads together for a decision on a date for elections. They will be held on March 17; from the time a Knesset is dissolved until the election is held, a period of three months, at a minimum, is required.
Later in the day, a vote was held in the Knesset regarding dissolving the Knesset. It passed by 84 votes. This was the first of three readings, with the second and third to take place on Monday. A “caretaker” government will be in place until the election.
Outstanding items on the Knesset agenda of particular note are the budget – with the one Finance Minister Lapid had proposed not having been well accepted, and the legislation on Israel as a Jewish State, which has caused enormous turmoil.
Here I simply want to take a quick look at how we got to where we are now, and why there is at least some modicum of hope that we will be seeing improvements in the overall situation.
The current situation was wrought by animosity, mistrust, ego, and poor political judgment. Going into the last election, which was held in January of 2013, there was enmity between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, who was up and coming with his nationalist HaBayit HaYehudi party. At one time Bennett worked as an aide to Netanyahu and there had been a falling out. But whatever ever else triggered the mutual ill will, it seemed clear that there was also unease on Netanyahu’s part because he saw Bennett as a challenger – with reason.
Netanyahu began to attack the HaBayit HaYehudi party, assuming that he (i.e,. Likud) would be the beneficiary of votes that HaBayit HaYehudi lost. But the gambit – which demonstrated poor judgment from the start – backfired. Lapid’s Yesh Atid garnered the votes instead, coming in way ahead of what the polls had predicted for him. Yesh Atid, with 19 mandates, was second only to a combined Likud-Yisrael Beitenu list, that had 31 mandates. While Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi straggled in with only 12, Lapid, a TV personality with charisma and absolutely no political expertise, felt like a big man all of a sudden. Lapid is not a modest man, by any stretch of the imagination. Nor a deep thinker.
At that point, Netanyahu had no choice but to include Lapid in his coalition. But Lapid refused to sit in a government with the two ultra-Orthodox parties, who traditionally had a place in a coalition – now they were left out.
Bennett, fearing that he might also be left out of the government, forged a strange, “one for all, all for one, we are brothers” relationship with Lapid. They informed Netanyahu that he had to take both of them or would get neither.
And so, grudgingly, Netanyahu made Bennett Minister of the Economy.
Over time, the Lapid-Bennett love-fest totally dissipated. They were a very odd couple ideologically.
Politics truly does make strange bedfellows and is one very convoluted business. I hope and trust that this brief explanation has provided some clarity.
Where do we go now? There have been expressions of regret and self-recrimination on the part of both Bennett and Netanyahu. The two have said they will work closely now, without tensions. And Bennett has said that his brief connection with Lapid was a mistake. Just possibly these people have learned something.
Polls are indicating that combined right wing-nationalist parties may bring in as many as 79 mandates. This is encouraging, and there is talk by various MKs about joining together for the sake of issues of mutual concern. This is precisely the way it must be in these incredibly difficult and dangerous times.
The ultra-Orthodox parties are expected to be part of the next coalition.
Yisrael Beitenu, which ran with Likud in the last election, will run separately now. The joint list proved not to be a success. While this party is counted in the tally of right wing parties, faction head Avigdor Lieberman, currently Foreign Minister, has not demonstrated very much consistency in his positions. He is impossible to read and causes considerable unease in some quarters.
Livni’s party just might sink into oblivion. And Lapid, who turned out to not be very popular with the electorate (in part because of his positions on finance), is not expected to do well.
Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud minister, is forming a new party (Israel needs new parties, yes?) that seems to be focusing on social welfare issues – the role he will play is not yet clear.
All things being equal, it is assumed that Likud will garner the most mandates in the election and that Binyamin Netanyahu will continue in his position of prime minister.
The biggest winner in this scenario, however, is probably Naftali Bennett. He has made it his business to be very visible for some time now, and has taken some very strong positions on nationalist and security issues that have resonated solidly with the public. He is expected to have considerable influence in the next government.
There were murmurings of dissension within his party, with Uri Ariel, but matters have been smoothed over.
It is, of course, too soon to predict with any certainty, but it is being said that Bennett may be in line for appointment as Defense Minister. Or, barring this, may have enormous influence with regard to security matters. This is something I find reassuring precisely because his positions have been unapologetically tough.
Oh, and the most important item: Kerry has said that he hopes the next Israeli government will be ready to negotiate. Mr. Kerry should not hold his breath.
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