World Jewish News
Benjamin Netanyahu during discussions of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, May 7, 2012. Photo by: Olivier Fitoussi
After securing unity cabinet with Kadima, Netanyahu is now king of Israeli politics
Twice in the last ten days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left the political system gaping with its jaw dropped. The first was ten days ago, when it became apparent that Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman jointly, and secretly, advanced a move to dissolve the Knesset and move up general elections. The second time was at 1:30 A.M., when nothing less than an atomic bomb was dropped, in the dramatic agreement inserting Kadima into the government and calling off an early vote.
While we were sleeping, under all our noses, politicians and journalists alike, a wondrous political friendship has been forming in the last week, between two bitter rivals, the prime minister and Likud chief Netanyahu and opposition leader and Kadima head Shaul Mofaz. The former, out of great power. The latter, from severe weakness. All the rest was smoke and mirrors: Mofaz's incessant and severe attacks against Netanyahu; Netanyahu's elections speech at the Likud conference; Mofaz's "consultations with party members on cancelling the primaries; and, above all, the parliamentary move in the Knesset to dissolve the Knesset, which turned out to be redundant from beginning to end. One big joke.
For hours, Israel's legislature, democracy's abode, turned, unwittingly and not to its favor, to a theater, a façade. On the stage, the boys played the early-elections game, yapping and flapping, cursing and attacking, without even considering that behind the scenes Netanyahu, Mofaz, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and their confidents – Lior Horev for Mofaz, Nathan Eshel for Netanyahu – were patching together the unity cabinet of 2012-2013.
After getting over initial feelings of disgust and nausea, you have to admit that Netanyahu, again, schooled us all. He's the number one politician, no doubt - by a mile. He bought Kadima, with its 28 MKs for a "pottage of lentils," for two and a half coins, thus ensuring himself another 18 months in power, headed by a coalition of 94 MKs. No party can topple him. The new Netanyahu government is made of one hundred tons of solid concrete.
What's in it for the state? The approval of a (hopefully adequate) replacement to the Tal Law, which acquires at the end of July; passing a restricted budget; and passing a law to change Israel's system of government. Two big questions rise following this deal: Iran – will the formation of this super-wide cabinet advance the option of a strike against Iran (despite the fact that Mofaz objects to such a move), and the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Should we expect a breakthrough? It's doubtful. Not before the U.S. presidential elections in November.
If the two main clauses in the agreement – a Haredi enlistment law and a law to change the system of government – are actually realized, Netanyahu may turn into the king of Israel. Meanwhile, he's certainly worthy of the title 'king of the political system.' We saw it in January 2011, when, together with Barak, he orchestrated the Labor split, which, in turn, solidified his own cabinet. We saw it again when on Monday afternoon, he opened the Likud conference with a vague comment, one which could only be understood in retrospect: "The Israeli people wants stability, the Israeli people will get stability."
Mofaz, on the other hand, proved that he fits the title of "hitchhiker," given to him by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar in a meeting to ratify the Kadima head as opposition leader five weeks ago. After his elections, he swore to author of these lines that he would never join this government, which "embodies all that is wrong in the State of Israel." He declared that he would be the one to lead the next summer's social protests. So he promised, he never promised to keep his promise. The polls that predicted the imminent demise of Kadima, along with the setting of September 4 as the date of the new elections, led him straight into the arms of the "liar," as he recently called him in an outburst a meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. When Mofaz is sworn in as the senior vice prime minister, it will probably end the shortest ever term of an opposition leader.
Labor chief Shelly Yacimovich is expected to fill his shoes. She'll get a lot of exposure, a generous budget for her activities, an armored car, and husky security guards to clear her path and to question her visitors. But she's also the biggest loser of this agreement: the 18 Knesset seats polls have predicted for her in an upcoming elections will have to wait until November 2013, and you never know what'll happen until then. Yacimovich at least has the opposition leadership (even if it is a shriveled, thin, powerless, 26-member opposition), but what does Yair Lapid have? What will he do to keep himself busy until the elections? How will he keep the torch [lapid] from blowing out and keep on burning? Will he be even relevant in 18 months? Well, probably not. This is where his story ends.
Exactly four months ago, on January 8, Lapid deserted his seat as presenter of Channel 2's "Ulpan Shishui" [Friday night studio, the channel's leading news magazine] with elections looming in the background. He meant well, even if we made mistakes along the way and committed some errors, the last of which was that ridiculous, anti-democratic, and Chauchesku-esque party guidelines he had prepared. On any account, Lapid's time was now. In 18 months, it will be a whole other opera.
At the Likud party meeting, which began around 2 A.M. at the Knesset, most of the MKs welcomed Netanyahu with applause. They were relieved. At the discussion, MK Miri Regev suggested that the response to the High Court's ruling, effectively forcing the state to clear five houses at the Ulpana Hill West Bank outpost by July 1, Israel must assert its sovereignty on all the settlements.
Netanyahu looked at her wearily, and said: "Miri, but we postponed the elections."
By Yossi Verter