Netanyahu’s Political Cynicism will Backfire…writes Isi Leibler
Without doubt, many Israelis share my disgust as they observe the deceitful and cynical machinations of those we elected to represent us in the Knesset.
Understandably, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was disappointed with the dramatic erosion in support of Likud-Beiteinu at the recent elections. Yet he remained the unchallenged leader of the nation and was uniquely positioned to create a broad coalition which could have enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the nation.
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid seemed an obvious partner. Contrary to depiction by much of the media, Lapid is no leftist and is committed to an undivided Jerusalem and retention of the major settlement blocs, including Ariel. His parliamentary team of newcomers was far superior to the prevailing Knesset members, many of whom were elected through corrupt and dubious primaries.
To bring Yesh Atid into the government, all that was required was a formula ensuring that the ultra-orthodox “share the burden” in terms of the draft or national service and become productively engaged in the workforce rather than subsisting on welfare. Lapid’s proposal on the draft was a graduated increase of conscripts over a five year period with exemptions for a limited number who could remain in full-time Torah study. Had Netanyahu moved in this direction, he would have enjoyed the enthusiastic support of most of the nation.
Instead, he suggested an essentially cosmetic arrangement which imposed no limit to the number of haredi exemptions – a proposal which Lapid refused to accept.
Simultaneously, Netanyahu humiliated his “natural” partner Naftali Bennett, head of Bayit Yehudi, meeting with him only after having consulted with every other party and only after Bennett had made a public apology over an insensitive but harmless remark about Netanyahu’s wife during the election season.
Bennett also rejected Netanyahu’s meager proposal to encourage the haredi draft and as a consequence, despite considerable divergence on other issues, both he and Lapid agreed not to join the government until the conscription issue was resolved.
In an effort to split the Bayit Yehudi-Yesh Atid nexus, Likud released a series of hostile remarks, ballooning out of proportion Lapid’s foolish aside about seeing himself as a potential prime minister, and ironically accusing both parties of being selfish and disregarding the national interest.
Netanyahu then extended an offer to Bayit Yehudi, initially via the media, to separate from Yesh Atid and become a foundation member of the new government.
When this failed, in lieu of seeking to negotiate a solution to the draft with his natural allies, Netanyahu stunned the nation by announcing that that Hatnuah, the six seat party of failed politician Tzipi Livni, had become the first member of his proposed new government.
Livni had been Netanyahu’s most vicious and unrelenting adversary over the past four years, repeatedly describing him as a charlatan and a devious opponent of peace. Prior to the elections, she had sought to persuade former PM Ehud Olmert to join her party. Subsequently, she tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Yesh Atid and the Labor Party to unite with her in a commitment not to partake in a government led by Netanyahu. The current hypocritical exchanges of political love between Tzipi Livni and Aryeh Deri of Shas serve to highlight the depths to which Livni was willing to stoop to make a deal.
From his side, Netanyahu who had explicitly vowed that Livni would never hold a position related to the peace process in his government, in addition to allotting her the Justice Ministry, appointed her leader of the government team to handle peace negotiations with the Palestinians. He even expressed a belief that she would revive the peace process.
As a climax to this brazen breach of undertakings, Livni’s number three, Amir Peretz, who had defected from the Labor Party because Shelley Yachimovitch was reluctant to unconditionally guarantee not to join a Netanyahu government, was mooted to be appointed Minister for the Environment.
Netanyahu’s impending coalition partners are likely to be the two haredi parties and the two-member Kadima party headed by Shaul Mofaz.
He will be gambling that Bayit Yehudi would oblige Bennett to terminate his alliance with Lapid and join the government. But if this fails to eventuate, he would remain with only 57 members, insufficient to form a government. His final fallback position would be to seduce Labor to join his government, which if realized, would result in the ultimate Alice in Wonderland government.
Netanyahu may reassure himself that due to the intransigency of the Palestinians, Livni’s negotiating role would be meaningless. He may also correctly anticipate that Livni would fulfill the role of Ehud Barak in the previous government and act as a fig leaf to those internationally who distrust him.
But he could have achieved the same result by cooperating with Lapid, a much more natural and convincing ally, and provided Livni with a minor role or relegated her to the opposition.
Even if he cobbles the required numbers to create a government, its survival would be dependent on the ongoing support of Livni, Bayit Yehudi and the haredim and it would be unlikely to survive long.
At ensuing polls, Israelis, already contemptuous of their politicians, will have been further repulsed by the manner in which Netanyahu dumped his natural allies and engaged in such crass political expediency. Voters are also likely to display their rage at Netanyahu for his failure to have used this unique opportunity to resolve the long festering haredi issue. Likud in such an election could well encounter a similar fate as Kadima.
The sad aspect of this is that despite the intense media demonization of Netanyahu – of which the hysteria over his ice cream budget is merely the latest example – his previous four-year term of office was, by and large, successful and he displayed genuine leadership qualities.
He withstood the Obama onslaughts whilst retaining support of the U.S. Congress and American public. He singlehandedly transformed the Iranian nuclear threat into a global issue. And despite failure in the peace talks – entirely due to the Palestinian refusal to negotiate without preconditions – the level of terrorist activity during his term was at its lowest level since the intifada.
But over the past six months each of Netanyahu’s pre-electoral strategies has backfired. Time is now running out and if he continues in this manner, Yesh Atid could end up in the opposition. Should that happen and should the haredi imbroglio remain unresolved, Netanyahu’s legacy will be shattered. Even more critical, our nation will lack an effective government during these crucial times and we would soon face another round of elections which may result in the creation of a center left government for which Netanyahu would be entirely responsible.
The die is not yet cast. Our Prime Minister should immediately resume negotiations with Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi to create a broad national government which will enjoy the support of the vast majority of the nation and be enabled to effectively deal with the global and domestic issues facing us and act speedily in preperation for the impending visit to Israel of President Obama.
Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.