Netanyahu power play could remake Mideast (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) PATRICK MARTIN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 05/09/12)
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In the name of stability, Benjamin Netanyahu has made himself the
most powerful Prime Minister in Israeli history – 94 of the Knesset’s
120 members are swearing loyalty to him – and with only 26 members in
the parliamentary opposition, Mr. Netanyahu can govern any way he
wishes, including launching a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear
facilities or even shaping a peace with the Palestinians.
While some Israelis, such as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a member
of Mr. Netanyahu’s own Likud party, worry that the imbalance between
government and opposition risks the degeneration of the parliamentary
system, most Israelis simply marvelled Tuesday at the arrangement
arrived at in the early hours of the morning that has dramatically
rearranged the country’s politics.
Just two days after he announced he was calling for elections to be
held in September, 13 months before the end of his electoral mandate,
Mr. Netanyahu decided to accept a plan put forward by Defence
Minister Ehud Barak and welcomed into his right-of-centre government
Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected leader of Kadima and his party’s 28
Added to Likud’s 27 seats, and the 39 other members of the coalition
that have governed the country since 2009, Mr. Netanyahu couldn’t
suppress a Cheshire Cat-like smile as he announced his 94-seat
“The man has given himself enormous power,” said Dani Dayan, head of
the Israeli settlers organization Yesha. Mr. Dayan was speaking at an
emergency meeting of settler leaders Tuesday evening in Beit El, a
settlement north of Jerusalem. “It remains to be seen how he wields
this power,” he said, concerned that the Prime Minister may turn his
back on them.
It is believed that Mr. Netanyahu was shaken Sunday night by the
right-wing resistance he encountered at a Likud party conference.
Opponents, such as Danny Danon, a staunchly pro-settlement Likud
member of Knesset, had refused the Prime Minister’s request to chair
the party convention and heckled the leader throughout his speech.
Mr. Netanyahu apparently left the convention hall and immediately
contacted Mr. Barak, as well as a former chief of staff in the Prime
Minister´s Office, and directed them to negotiate with Mr. Mofaz.
The result was a 13-point document that set out the terms under which
Mr. Mofaz and Kadima would become part of the government.
Among other things, Mr. Mofaz will serve as the deputy prime minister
in the government and will stand in for Mr. Netanyahu whenever the
Prime Minister is absent. He will also be a member of the powerful
As well, the government will proceed quickly with abolishing the
practice of giving military exemptions to tens of thousands of Haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) men; with addressing the age-old issue of changing
the electoral system to make it more difficult for tiny parties to be
elected; and even with reopening the peace process with Palestinian
“In effect,” said Hanan Crystal, a political commentator for Israel
Radio, “[Mr. Netanyahu] is telling [Mr.] Danon and others: ‘The Likud
is not a nationalist-religious party, it’s a centralist-liberal
With such a wide base and so many parties to the left of him as well
as to the right, Mr. Netanyahu can govern without fear that a walkout
by any of the parties on either side would topple his government.
When it comes to Iran, the record shows that Mr. Mofaz has been
hawkish against Iran when he served in the governments of Ariel
Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and somewhat dovish when he’s been in
Most recently, Mr. Mofaz, who was born in Tehran, said Israel should
not act alone in any action against Iran.
As a former chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces, and a former
minister of defence under Mr. Sharon, the Kadima leader has
substantial credibility in this matter.
With him in the coalition, the Prime Minister has several options. If
he wants to attack Iran, Mr. Mofaz may be persuaded to support him;
if he doesn’t want to attack, then Mr. Mofaz may serve as a fig leaf,
explaining why Mr. Netanyahu was held back from attacking by his
deputy prime minister.
Right-wing elements of the Likud party were highly critical of the
move to broaden the government.
Mr. Danon said he voted against the arrangement in the party caucus
meeting that took place around 2:30 Tuesday morning. “This will
perpetuate keeping [Ehud] Barak as Defence Minister for another year
and a half, and will bring in a left-wing party called Kadima into
the government,” Mr. Danon said. “This will be a blow to settlement;
this will hurt the Likud’s values and will hurt the Israeli public
that elected the Likud to lead the State of Israel.”
For his part, even the dour Mr. Mofaz couldn’t keep from smiling.
With this one stroke he had saved the Kadima party that was facing a
stunningly large loss of seats in any election this year, and
catapulted himself to the front bench of government.
Mr. Barak, an apparent broker in the coalition deal, is also happy.
Having split from the Labour party last year in order to remain in
the government, his five-member Independence party was facing
annihilation in a September election. This way, Mr. Barak lives to
fight another year as Defence Minister.
The big losers in this unexpected development must certainly include
the recently elected Labour party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who is
stuck now with only eight members of Knesset instead of the 18 to 19
that opinion polls suggested she’d capture in an election this year.
Ms. Yachimovich, an assertive and articulate former journalist who
had revived Labour after Mr. Barak’s departure, denounced the accord.
“This is a pact of cowards and the most contemptible and preposterous
zigzag in Israel’s political history,” she said “Nobody will ever
forget this shady deal, and unfortunately, this will cause profound
damage to public faith in politics.”
Another apparently big loser is Yair Lapid, the entertaining former
television news anchor who only last month announced the formation of
a new political party that, polls indicated, could win some 11 seats
were an election to take place soon.
Mr. Lapid described the unity government as precisely the kind of
detestable and ugly politics he sought to eliminate. This repulsive
political alliance will bury all of its participants under it, he
said. (© Copyright 2012 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. 05/09/12)
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