My friends, I think it would be lovely if we could segue directly to early April and time for the Israeli elections. But, unfortunately, that will not be possible.
And so, I will continue to share basics of the campaign, without an undue focus on details that might seem obscure to many outside of Israel (as well as to some inside of Israel, I suspect). The number of people leaving one party for another, or just leaving, or just joining for the first time is considerable. It reminds me a bit of musical chairs.
And so, the news as of today:
Avi Gabbay, chair of the Labor party, which was united with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua (the movement) party to form the Zionist Union, on Tuesday publicly “divorced” his party from Livni’s. He did this at a meeting that was being televised, and without having provided her with prior notification.
Whatever his rationale in terms of her not having been a genuine team player, his action was something of a busha (embarrassment/source of shame) that is not going to enhance his voter base.
Livni rallied sufficiently to promise supporters a “revolution” shortly after this, but whether her party will actually make it into the next Knesset remains to be seen. There were hints that she hoped to join with former chief of staff Benny Gantz’s new party (the Resilience Party, about which we still know nothing), but there does not seem to have been any interest expressed by Gantz.
Actually, as soon as I learned about this split, my guess was that Gabbay would express interest in merging with Gantz, who is turning out to be very popular on the left. But I believe he has indicated that he finds Labor to be too far left.
On the other hand, I have read that former chief of staff and former minister of defense Moshe Ya’alon has an interest in working with Gabbay. Apparently the Gantz-Yaalon merger has not worked out.
Livni had been head of the opposition, but Gabbay has now appointed Shelly Yachimovich, former head of Labor, to that position.
I believe that my description of this situation as an “electoral soap opera” is quite apt. And we have not gotten to the most startling news yet. What happens on the left is certainly of interest, but is not likely to impact the formation of our next government. What goes on with regard to the center/right, almost certainly has more direct import:
It was announced today that Caroline Glick, journalist and commentator, has decided to join Naftali Bennett in the new party, the New Right that he and Ayelet Shaked have just formed. This was a major surprise.
I do not have to consult any sources to know that Bennett is extremely happy about this, just as Prime Minister Netanyahu has got to be distressed. Glick has a following and will bring voters to the new party. The major question is which parties these voters will be drawn from. How much, if at all, will this weaken the Likud base?
Meanwhile Prime Minister Netanyahu has been in Brazil for some days. It is this sort of interaction with the international community that is perhaps his greatest strength.
Netanyahu went for the presidential inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro. The election of the right-wing Bolsonaro was big news because after an extended period of pro-Palestinian Arab left-wing governments, there was going to be someone leading Brazil – a major South American power – who is supportive of Israel and can be a significant ally.
Netanyahu met with the president-elect in Rio de Janeiro, where he received the highest national decoration given to visitors; Bolsonaro is seen laughing to the right in the picture below:
There was expectation of an announcement with regard to Brazil moving its embassy to Jerusalem. That, however, was not forthcoming, as Brazil is under immense pressure from Arab countries. But Netanyahu said that Bolsonaro told him the move was a question of “when and not if.”
While in Brazil, Netanyahu held a press conference. The most notable statement he made was that he has no intention of resigning if he is summoned for a hearing with regard to the potential corruption charges he is facing (emphasis added):
“Israel is a state of law and according to the law, a prime minister does not have to resign in the process of hearing. The hearing does not end until you hear my side and therefore it makes no sense to start this process and hold a hearing before the elections if you cannot finish it before the elections.”
Since then, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has announced that he believes he has an obligation to the electorate to make a decision on whether to indict Netanyahu before the election so that voters would have all possible information when going to the polls.
Mandelblit’s decision has serious political overtones. Netanyahu’s legal team has stated that:
“To declare a hearing during an election campaign without hearing the other side is a distortion of the electorate’s wishes and a serious blow to the democratic process.”
I have no legal expertise, but intuitively what they say feels right to me. This is a troublesome factor in the course of a campaign.
While in Brazil (in the capital, Brasilia, at this point) yesterday, January 1, Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had also come for the inauguration. Pompeo assured Netanyahu that:
“The counter-ISIS campaign continues. Our efforts to counter Iranian aggression continue, and our commitment to Middle East stability and the protection of Israel continues in the same way it did before that decision [on the pullout from Syria] was made.”
Right now the entire issue of the pullout is somewhat in flux.
One day before the meeting with Pompeo, Netanyahu had called Trump and requested that the pullout be done more slowly.
There was indication that the president was receptive to this. I am now reading that it may take four months, which presumably reflects a slower pace than what Trump had originally intended. But I recall clearly seeing reports when Trump first made his announcement that indicated it is likely to take four months.
Three days ago, on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham met with President Trump. They discussed the situation in Syria, with Graham urging him to slow down. When he came out of the meeting, the senator told reporters that the withdrawal of troops from Syria was “slowing down in a smart way,” and talks about removing troops were in a “pause situation.”
Perhaps most significantly, Graham said Trump told him “some things I didn’t know” about his plans in Syria “that make me feel a lot better about where we’re headed.”
All of this is before National Security Advisor John Bolton arrives here on Sunday, at which point he will discuss Syria with Netanyahu.
Fervently do I wish that our prime minister had nothing on his plate but issues such as this – issues of enormous import, without the distractions of the campaign and possible indictment. The country would be best served if he were able to deliver his undivided attention.