‘A political bombshell!’
That’s how Israeli media described the drama that transformed Israel’s political landscape. Just a day and a half after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced early elections for September, a year ahead of schedule, he did an about-face. In secret negotiations, he brought the opposition and rival Kadima party into the government. The result was the second-biggest coalition in Israel’s history, a super majority with 94 seats in the 120-seat Knesset (parliament). The nation was stunned.
For some, Netanyahu’s move was a “masterstroke.” This is the “move of a super-statesman,” said Israel Radio political commentator Hanan Crystal.
For others, it was a “stinking maneuver.” “This is a pact of cowards and themost contemptible and preposterous zigzag in Israel’s political history,” said Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich.
The deal became possible after Shaul Mofaz, a former army chief, ousted dovish Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in a party primary. Livni actually won the popular vote in the 2009 national election but was unable to form a government, clearing the way for Netanyahu’s rise to power. As foreign minister in the previous government of PrimeMinister Ehud Olmert, Livni was chief negotiator with the Palestinians, offering thema state in most of the territories captured by Israel in 1967. But as opposition leader, she was widely seen as weak and ineffective.
After Mofaz’ victory, Kadima, which was established by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was a disintegrating party. Polls showed that in early elections, Kadima would have plummeted from its current 28 seats to just 13. So Mofaz was out to save his own skin.
“Mofaz was headed to an election campaign that sentenced him and his party to political death,” wrote columnist Nahum Barnea in Israel’s biggest newspaper Yediot Ahronot. “Postponing the elections provides him with an opportunity to recover, or—in a less successful scenario from his standpoint— offers him a stay of sentence of a year and a half. This is what people sentenced to death do: They seek a reprieve.”
Netanyahu had called early elections, hoping to capitalize on polls which showed him far ahead of his opponents. But the deal with Mofaz left him with an even firmer grip on power.
“This government is good for security, good for the economy and good for the people of Israel,” Netanyahu said. And it’s also good for him. A survey in the left-wing dailyHa’aretzshowed that 48 percent of Israelis see Netanyahu as a fitting leader of the state, far more than any other politician.
Tackling the Issues
The new government is in a strong position to deal with key issues, both domestic and international. The top issue on the domestic front is amending the Tal Law, which permitted draft exemptions for tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva (seminary) students. The Supreme Court has ordered an end to the exemptions, which have sharpened the religious-secular divide in Israel and stoked resentment. The secular majority, which risks the lives of its sons on the front lines of combat, accuses the ultra-Orthodox of getting a free ride (see Israel Today, April 2012).
On the international front, Israel’s ongoing threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities tops the agenda. “Of course one of the important issues is Iran,” said Netanyahu.
The new coalition sends a strong message to Iran that Israel is united and capable of dealing with Tehran’s quest for the atom bomb. As Cabinet Minister Gilad Erdan put it: “When a decision is taken to attack, or not, it is better to have a broad political front that unites the public.”
By Shlomo mordechai -israeltoday electronic issue june 2012