At least we’ll have a quiet summer now. Unless something happens in Iran. Or the settlements… (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By RAPHAEL AHREN 05/08/12)
TIMES OF ISRAEL
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The public has been spared the cost and chaos of early elections, the
PM has more flexibility, the DM saved his skin, and Mofaz saved his
party for now. For Yair Lapid and yeshiva students, things look a
he prospect of early elections had given rise to much speculation:
would Aryeh Deri, the ex-con and former Shas strongman, create his
own party and run against his former colleagues? Which party would
the leaders of the social justice movement join? Would Ehud Barak’s
Independence party pass the minimum threshold?
These and other questions are no longer relevant, at least for now.
The surprise deal to create a national unity government has already
produced an entirely different set of political permutations, and its
own clear winners and losers. Here is a short overview of who gains
from the shock deal, who loses, and whose fate isn’t clear yet.
Benjamin Netanyahu: At the head of one of the largest coalitions in
Israeli history, the prime minister has decidedly more wiggle room to
push through difficult decisions. This could be an important factor
when it comes to the question of an Israeli preemptive strike on
Iran, for instance. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, for example,
thinks the unity government allows Netanyahu to “proceed apace with
whatever he’s thinking about doing re: Iran’s nuclear sites.” He and
other pundits had previously believed that Netanyahu wouldn’t attack
during an election campaign.
Locally, the biggest issues that were causing Netanyahu headaches
were two Supreme Court rulings: one that orders the state to
dismantle illegal West Bank outposts and one that declared the Tal
Law unconstitutional. The law allowed yeshiva students to defer
enlistment and several parties, though not the Likud, have drafted
proposals to replace it with a law that would have all citizens do
national or military service. Now that Netanyahu has, at least
nominally, the support of more than three fourth of MKs, he can more
easily make moves without fearing that the Orthodox and pro-settler
elements in government will bolt the coalition and oust his
government. If Shas is not happy about the bill to replace the Tal
Law and leaves, the government still has enough votes to pass it.
Sunday’s Likud Central Committee meeting showed that the right-wing
elements in Likud are gaining strength. Indeed, the settler-friendly
Danny Danon was the sole Likud MK who spoke out against the national
unity government, charging that it would contradict the party’s right-
wing principles. As journalist Amir Mizroch put it: “On Sunday night
at [the] Likud convention the settlers won the battle. On Monday
night, Netanyahu won the war.”
Ehud Barak: According to nearly all surveys, his Independence party
would not have passed the threshold to enter the next Knesset. The
right-wing elements in Likud went to great lengths trying to prevent
Netanyahu from smuggling Barak into the next government on the Likud
list. For now, Barak is safe and has almost a year and a half to try
to put his party on the political map, or abandon this project —
which seemed doomed from its very inception — and try to rejoin one
of the established parties.
Tzipi Livni: Today she can feel vindicated. As Haaretz editor-in-
chief Aluf Benn wrote: “Mofaz today proved that Livni really
practiced politics of a different sort.” A different kind of
politics — one that tolerates long years in the opposition if the
terms for joining the government are not in sync with one’s political
convictions — was, and remains, her slogan. “Remember that there is a
different kind of politics — it will prevail,” Livni wrote on her
Facebook profile on Tuesday morning.
What that exactly means is unclear, but when she quit the Knesset
last week she made plain that she was not bidding farewell to public
life just yet. Some speculated that she might create a new party with
a few breakaway Kadima MKs who didn’t like Mofaz. Or she can work
together with Yair Lapid, the former journalist-cum-political pop
star who created a new party. Whatever option she chooses, come
election day 2013, she can enter the campaign well-rested and proudly
say that she always stood and still stands for a different kind of
Yuval Zellner: When the 34-year-old was sworn in Monday as the newest
MK — he replaced Tzipi Livni — and addressed his colleagues, many
observers were thinking that this was his first and last speech at
the Knesset. Pundits were laughing about the fact that he was sworn
into a Knesset that was supposed to dissolve itself just hours later.
Everybody, including himself, thought that he would remain an MK for
just four months.
Granted, it would have been four months in which he would receive an
MK’s salary and that would guarantee him a parliamentarian’s pension
plus a lifelong supply of perks, such as free newspapers and so on.
But he wouldn’t have had one accomplishment to show, not one speech,
not even a voting record for anything important. Now that he is a
lawmaker for a coalition party, however, he has almost a year and a
half to make an impact on the country’s parliament.
Avigdor Liberman: The only senior politician who didn’t attend
Monday’s dramatic Knesset session, because he is currently in
Germany, Liberman can be satisfied with the deal. He stands to gain,
and without having to give anything in return. His party only has 15
mandates — compared to Kadima’s 28 — and yet he controls important
portfolios including the Foreign Ministry, the Internal Security
Ministry, the Tourism Ministry and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry —
while the largest party in the Knesset, Kadima, has none. In
addition, the chance that a replacement of the Tal Law will be
passed — which is one of his Yisrael Beytenu party’s core demands,
over which it was willing to dismantle the coalition — has grown
tremendously with Mofaz entering the government.
Israeli online media: Only two major newspapers printed special
editions with the news of the unity deal on Monday morning. Countless
Israelis read in their morning papers that the Knesset had been
dissolved, only to then hear on the radio on the way to work that
what was supposed to happen never actually happened. True, many
online journalists (including this reporter) had election analysis
pieces ready to be uploaded. They were promptly chucked into the
virtual trash bin.
At least the readers of news websites are up to date, while those who
prefer to consume their news on real paper are still reading about
the looming election and what it means for Israel. Israelis are news
junkies, and after tonight it became clearer than ever that the
traditional 24-hour news cycle is anachronistic.
The Israeli public: Not only will the taxpayer be spared the hundreds
of millions that an early election would have cost, Israelis can now
look forward to a quiet summer vacation, without endless political
debates. Unless, of course, something happens in Iran. And then there
are the demolitions of the illegal West Bank settlements, scheduled
for July 1 (in Beit El) and August 1 (in Migron). Well, forget the
quiet vacation; it’s going to be a hot summer. At least we will be
spared from too much in-your-face election broadcasting. That’s
better than nothing.
Yair Lapid: He was supposed to be the “next big thing,” and now he is
downgraded to be the “next big thing in waiting.” The polls predicted
up to 12 Knesset seats for the newcomer but now he has to wait and
hope that the sails will not have lost their wind by then. “There is
a Future” is the name of his new party, but the future will have to
wait until the fall of 2013.
“This disgusting political alliance will bury all of its members
beneath itself,” a fuming Lapid said of the Mofaz-Netanyahu deal. But
his real concern, by next year, is that the alliance will bury him,
especially if a replacement for the Tal Law has been passed by then.
The equal sharing of the burden was one his key issues, and now he
may have to find another issue in which he can purport to offer a
true alternative to the established parties — if, that is, the
Netanyahu-Mofaz alliance does actually get the new legislation on
equal service through parliament.
Yeshiva students: Basically all Zionist parties in the Knesset agree
that the status quo that allows those who study Torah to defer their
army service is untenable. Netanyahu pledged several times to replace
the Tal Law with “more equal and more just” legislation. The issue
almost brought the current coalition to the ground. Now, with the 28
additional votes from Kadima, the government can go ahead and pass a
law that will not be a softer version of its predecessor but will
actually mandate military or national service for all citizens. Shas
leader Eli Yishai will try his best to soften any proposals, but he
is no longer needed for a majority.
Danny Danon: Currently a deputy speaker of the Knesset, he was the
only Likud MK who came out swinging against the deal. “This agreement
not only allows the leftist Kadima party to sneak into the government
and saves it from a near-certain death, it also further entrenches
Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister for another year and a
half.” A champion of the Likud’s right wing, he ran this week against
Netanyahu for the position of president of the party’s convention and
was able to deal an embarrassing blow to the prime minister. Danon
runs the danger of turning into a Moshe Feiglin-lite, and Netanyahu
goes to great lengths to get rid of troublemakers.
Shaul Mofaz: Finally he can start calling himself deputy prime
minister again, after he held that title from May 2006 to 2009 in the
Ehud Olmert era. In the past, he also served as defense and
transportation minister, but this time around he will have to make do
with being a minister without portfolio. He resolutely refused to sit
on the opposition bench, and his dream came true. He will want to
credit himself as the savior of Kadima, which would have shrunken in
elections from the Knesset’s strongest party to the fourth or fifth
But at what price? Opposition leaders have slammed his deal with
Netanyahu, which came on the heels of his repeated pledges not to
join the government. Since he left Likud in 2005 to join Kadima,
after having declared a month earlier that he would never do such a
thing, he has not been the most trusted politician around. He has now
further further eroded any trust the public had in him. It is
unlikely that he will be able to restore Kadima to the glory days
when Israelis believed in a centrist party.
Now that Kadima joined a government with Likud, Shas, Yisrael
Beytenu, and the national-religious Jewish Home party — which
declared earlier this week that it would merge with the far-right
National Union — it will be a hard sell to centrist voters. Rather
than offering an alternative to Netanyahu’s policies, it seems that
Kadima is being absorbed by its new senior partner into the right-
wing bloc. Where will such a party find voters 17 months from now?
For now, Mofaz has spared his party near-certain collapse at early
elections. But reporters derided him at his joint press conference
with Netanyahu for having essentially surrendered Kadima to the
Likud. How was he going to influence the government agenda as the
sole Kadima minister? How was he going to restore his credibility?
How was he going to shape Kadima to face the voters when elections do
finally come next year? He will have to hope a year-and-a-half of
government activity will provide some answers.
Shelly Yachimovich: The Labor leader commandeered the room and the
microphone as soon as Netanyahu and Mofaz had finished their press
conference. She unleashed a barrage of the bitterest criticism of the
prime minister and his new deputy. And she vowed that their
partnership would only bolster public dismay at their lack of
principles and public faith in Labor’s.
There will certainly be voters who deeply doubt that the national
interest was what primarily guided the prime minister and the Kadima
leader. But Yachimovich has her own interest, too. Early elections
were expected to boost Labor to 17 or 18 seats. Now, she has to wait
more than a year to revive her party’s Knesset representation —
precious months in which the new coalition just might tackle some of
her flagship social and diplomatic issues. If Netanyahu and Mofaz do
indeed achieve great things together, Labor’s appeal will be dented.
If the alliance proves to be a case of more talk than action, then
Yachimovich’s prediction — that Labor will do even better at the
polls in late 2013 than it would have done in late 2012 — could well
be realized. (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 05/08/12)
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