PM’s political masterstroke buys him room for maneuver. How will he use it? (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By DAVID HOROVITZ 05/08/12)
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Netanyahu never wanted early elections. But is staving them off more
than a tactical victory?
Minutes after the news broke that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz had sealed a deal on a unity
government, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz was tweeting: “We thought it
was all over, but no. What’s happening right now is a major trick
that stinks, perhaps one of the dirtiest tricks in the history of the
state. A prime minister with neither a compass nor a conscience, and
a desperate opposition leader who is corrupt to the bone.”
The fury on the left was easy to understand. Horowitz’s own party,
Meretz, might not have gotten a significant boost from elections on
September 4. But the main center-left party, Labor, was heading for a
healthy upsurge, as was new political leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.
Kadima, that unreliable, hard-to-define centrist faction, looked to
The Netanyahu-Mofaz deal changes all that. And the anger on the left
is only part of the reason for the pleasure Netanyahu must be feeling
at what he and his supporters will doubtless depict as a political
At the eleventh hour, just before his colleagues were set to vote the
18th Knesset into history, Netanyahu achieved a whole slew of
tactical victories. He widened his coalition to include the largest
party in parliament, signing the deal with Mofaz that he and the
former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not bring themselves to ratify
no matter how beneficial each might have believed it to be for their
parties and the nation. He now heads a vast coalition in which the
minor parties immediately muster less influence and have consequently
less capacity to try to manipulate the national agenda for their
Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman may have quickly welcomed the
deal, but it reduces his party’s ability to threaten coalition crises
over legislation such as the successor to the Tal Law on national
service for the ultra-Orthodox.
Netanyahu has also spared himself a battle with the right wing of his
own party over the selection of a Knesset slate for early elections.
That’s a battle he’ll yet have to fight, but one he can now prepare
for with more leisure. He saw at the Likud convention on Sunday that
influence within the party is shifting to the right. For now, he can
shelve the problem, though it will come back to haunt him if he
leaves it for too long.
In Mofaz, he has a partner who demonstrably wants to sit in
government, and with whom he quite plainly can find a common and
expedient language. Mofaz might have tried to drive a harder bargain.
He could have pushed for more Kadima cabinet seats, and for a more
senior ministry of his own. Evidently, though, he wanted a deal done
quickly — just as Netanyahu did. The last thing Mofaz wanted was to
face the voters with Kadima heading for only 12 or so seats. For him,
this partnership delays the day of reckoning for a party in freefall.
Netanyahu has now avoided the early elections that would have seen
Labor likely soaring from the 13 seats it won last time to 17 or 18 —
the second-largest party in the Knesset, and led by a credible
champion of social justice in Shelly Yachimovich. And Lapid, the ex-
TV news anchor, will have to cool his heels a while now; Netanyahu
will hope the Lapid bubble will burst long before the old-new
scheduled election date in late 2013.
The prime minister, with Kadima at his side, is also now potentially
capable of taking a more centrist position on dealings with the
Palestinians and over settlements. It’s by no means clear that he
wants to do so. But he has room for maneuver now if he wishes to use
it. And the Americans and the rest of the international community
will be well aware of the fact.
Many pundits felt Netanyahu and Livni did the Israeli electorate a
disservice in not building a unity government after the 2009
elections. That coalition might have introduced electoral reform,
tackled the issue of social inequality, drawn up territorial red
lines for dealing with the Palestinians, and more widely represented
Israelis on major issues such as facing the challenge of Iran. Now,
more than three years later, some of those opportunities may still be
Alternatively, the Netanyahu-Mofaz partnership could come to be
recognized as a cynical exercise in narrow political expediency — as
MK Horowitz immediately branded it — one that made the prime
minister’s life a little easier, staved off the collapse of a party
that had outlived its purpose, and maintained a damaging leadership
paralysis for an Israel confronted by a worrying array of threats.
Netanyahu never really wanted early elections. Now that he’s avoided
them, how is he going to use the time? (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
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