Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Political bombshell

In a bombshell surprise about-face, PM Netanyahu cancelled the planned Israeli elections and instead announced in a joint press conference a new coalition with the Kadima Party. Shaul Mofaz, former C-in-C of the IDF and the recently elected Head of the Party in place of Tzipi Livni, is a politician who loves power. He did what most party leaders want to do, he formed an alliance with Netanyahu's government in order to become Deputy PM and share some of the power. Although Livni remained aloof from previous offers by Netanyahu, preferring to be the leader of the opposition, her party members became increasingly disillusioned with her passive and detached approach.

Why did Netanyahu decide on this step? Because he was faced with the breakdown of his current coalition, which includes both secular and religious parties. He could see that the matters that were forcing the election, namely the Tal Law on military deferment and the treatment of already constructed settlement outposts, would cause great dissension during the election campaign. The Supreme Court has ruled on both issues and required the Government to take steps to resolve the issues very soon. By making his coalition wider by including actually the largest Knesset Party, Kadima (28 seats), Netanyahu can now ensure that his policies and bills will be approved by the Knesset, irrespective of what the religious parties decide, either to vote against and/or to leave his coalition. A major policy for Kadima is also electoral reform and the new coalition partners have made that a plank in their agreement. This decision also avoids what many see as an unnecessary and financially wasteful election campaign.

The biggest winner in this situation is Netanyahu, who strengthens his hold on power without needing to go to the electorate. Clearly Mofaz is also a winner, because without an election, in which Kadima was expected to lose many seats, he quickly becomes Deputy PM. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also a winner because he retains his position for another year and a half, while if there had been an election his Independence Party was expected to lose all representation in the Knesset. FM Liberman is a winner because Netanyahu is expected to propose policies that have the support of his right-wing Israel Beitanu Party. The main losers are Shelly Yachimovich, the recently elected head of the Labor Party, who will become the lonely leader of the opposition, and Yair Lapid, who launched his new "Yesh Atid" (there is a future) Party, expecting to gain support in the now-postponed election (he should change the name of his party to "maybe no future"). The right wing of Likud, led by Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, are also losers because they now cannot challenge Netanyahu in the Likud.

Although this new coalition is not a wall-to-wall coalition it is has been called a National Unity Government and comes at a time when feasibility plans are definitely under consideration for attacking the nuclear facilties in Iran. Such an epic attack would require general agreement across the political spectrum, and in effect Netanyahu has maneuvered himself into a position to obtain this. Quite a brilliant political move.


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