The Knesset delivered some good news yesterday: The decision to form an investigative committee that would look into the work of leftwing NGOs has lost momentum and is likely not to be implemented. It seems that the second vote, necessary to confirm the probe, won’t even take place.
The NGO’s investigative committee won a clear majority a few weeks ago, when it was brought for the first of two votes. So what made Knesset members change their mind?
First, there was a backlash against the Knesset members from the left who failed to oppose the original bill (most of them simply didn’t show up for the vote). Then came the biggest leftwing protest in years, which took place in Tel Aviv. The unusual turnout, organizers claimed, was largely due to the coming probe.
Around the same time, Kadima, still the biggest party in the Knesset, recognized an opportunity to embarrass Netanyahu. Tzipi Livni noticed the mounting opposition to the probe, and decided that all Kadima members would oppose it, thus making sure the second vote in the Knesset would be a close one.
The final vote was intended to take place next Monday. In order to win it, the entire coalition had to be mobilized. That included PM Netanyahu himself, who would have preferred not to be seen raising his hand in support of such a controversial measure. On top of this, four senior Likud members – Miki Eithan, Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin – made it clear that they would oppose the bill.
Now the vote was expected to be extremely close, probably falling one way or the other on a single vote. Suddenly, the pressure was on the coalition. Few more Likud members feared they were going to fail on both fronts: they would have their name on the list of supporters for the probe (something they weren’t too thrilled about), and still lose the vote.
Yesterday, Netanyahu surrendered, and freed all Likud members to vote as they wish. The move all but eliminated the chances to secure a Knesset majority, and Avigdor Lieberman – whose party came up with the idea of the probe – decided to postpone the vote in order to avoid an embarrassing loss at the Knesset.
The background to these events is the growing rivalry between PM Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister. A few days ago, Lieberman humiliated Netanyahu (and not for the first time) by vetoing the appointment of his security adviser Uzi Arad as the ambassador in London. Some people think that letting the NGO prove die was Netanyahu’s way of getting back at Lieberman, by depriving him of a major political achievement. This move, however, might cause more voters from the right flank of the Likud to turn to Israeli Beiteinu.
The real winner of the day was Tzipi Livni. Kadima bet on opposition to the probe – and won the battle. After all the challenges to her leadership, it seems that Livni took control over her party, at least for the time being.
As for Netanyahu, just a month ago, after the split at Labor, it looked as if his seat was secured for the rest of his term. Not anymore. Netanyahu is at the mercy of Lieberman, and it seems that the Foreign Minister is getting impatient with him by the day. The only thing holding Lieberman from calling new elections is the Attorney General’s coming decision whether to press charges against him, due to be given in the next few weeks. My guess is that Lieberman will wait to see to see whether he is forced to resign from the government and go to court, and only then decide on the fate of this coalition.