Netanyahu’s government: from here it’s all downhill

Posted: October 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments »

The current Israeli government has reached the end of the road. Soon, Netanyahu will have to chose between changing his coalition to new elections

Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister office determined not to repeat the mistakes of his previous term, those that led to his premature downfall in 1999. This time, he enjoyed a better starting point: unlike in his first term, Netanyahu has a strong rightwing majority in the Knesset, and he was able to cover his left flank by pulling Labor into the government.

But things didn’t work out as Netanyahu expected, and people familiar enough with Israeli politics already estimate that the current government has reached the end of its road. Knesset speaker and Likud member Rubi Rivlin even predicted that by the end of the current Knesset session, six months from now, the date of the next elections will have been set.

The cracks in Netanyahu’s coalition are easy to spot. Netanyahu’s most important coalition partner, defense minister Ehud Barak, was quoted today In Israel’ leading tabloid, Yedioth Ahronoth, criticizing the Prime Minister for his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state now.

“We don’t need an aggressive Winston Churchill now, but a De Gaulle,” said Barak, according to Yedioth. Churchill is Netanyahu’s role model; De Gaulle is the President that ended French occupation in Algeria.

Barak is the weakest link in the coalition, and he is just about to break. He has been under pressure for supporting Netanyahu from the day he entered his government, and he can’t hold much longer. Haaretz editorial already called for the resignation of Labor ministers because of the Loyalty Oath bill, top labor officials have left Barak’s camp one after the other, and Maariv’s top story today was a declaration by MK Avishay Braverman that he will run for Labor’s leadership.

Barak feels the heat. He stopped defending Netanyahu in public a while ago, and it seems as if he is preparing the ground for his departure from government (the other option, that he would leave Labor and stick by Netanyahu, doesn’t seem very likely now).

Netanyahu’s senior partner on the Right, Avigdor Lieberman, smells the blood as well. When Lieberman was on Netanyahu’s side, he kept quiet and never doubted the peace process in public. Now he does it at the UN, much to the dismay of the Prime Minister. Lieberman might be forced to leave the government soon because of a police investigation on corruption charges, and he probably wants his exit to be noisy. Like Barak, he wants to show voters that he left power behind for ideological reasons.

There are other signs that the Prime Minister doesn’t enjoy the same respect within his coalition or even his party. Politicians have a great sense for weakness, and if Netanyahu wasn’t getting weaker, Knesset speaker Rivlin – who wants to succeed Peres as president and needs the Prime Minister’s support for that – would have never challenged him publicly. The game has changed: now Netanyahu needs Rivlin more than Rivlin needs Netanyahu.

What’s now?

One thing is clear: in the current Knesset, the only possible Prime Minister is Netanyahu. Tzipi Livni cannot have a majority without either Lieberman or Netanyahu himself as partners, and she probably won’t have any of them. Assuming there is no immediate breakthrough in the peace process (or a war…) and Labor does leave the government, we are left with the following scenarios:

A. New centrist government: Netanyahu declares he wants to move forward in the peace process, and invites Kadima to join him. Even if Livni agrees, such a deal won’t last for long, as Kadima might think that it’s in her interest to break the partnership sooner than later. Netanyahu knows that, so he hesitates on turning to Livni. UPDATE: as I’m writing this, Haaretz reports that Netanyahu is considering having Kadima join his government.

B. New extreme-right government: Labor leaves the coalition and Netanyahu relays on the right for staying in power. That would make him the most “lefty” element in his coalition – a very bad position for a PM. The settlers would make his life miserable, and the international pressure would become unbearable. Result: early elections.

C. Elections: according to the Israeli law, when the government falls, new elections must be held in three months. In reality, when the government is about to fall, it sets up a date for new elections much further away (usually in six to eight months), so the prime Minister can remain in power and engage in a long campaign which is not dominated by a crisis atmosphere. If Netanyahu is cornered, he might go for elections, especially if he feels that there is not a powerful challenger around. Right now, there isn’t any one, but if Tel Aviv’s mayor ron huldai chooses to run, he might be the strongest candidate the Left had in years.

I think Netanyahu haven’t made up his mind regarding the choices he faces. He views the current coalition as the best one for him, so he would probably wait to see how the midterm elections in the US affect him and hope that the fault for the failure of the peace process would fall on the Palestinians (Israeli representatives in Washington are already working to make sure it does).

Eventually, and without some sort of external development that would save him, I think Netanyahu would prefer to change his coalition than to have early elections. If Kadima enters his government, we might have another round of meaningless talks with the Palestinians before things break up again.

If, however, Netanyahu turns to the Right, events might turn real crazy.

The Election is Over, Let the Election Begin

Posted: November 13th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The municipal elections are over, and there were a few interesting results, including surprising losses for some of Israel’s longest serving mayors: Yaakov Turner in Beer Sheva, Meir Nitzan in Rishon Le’tzion, and Zvi Zilker in Ashdod.

In Jerusalem, secular businessman Nir Barkat got the upper hand in his battle against Orthodox MK Menachem Porush. This doesn’t mean that Jerusalem is getting more secular. Porush lost because he failed to win the support of some important orthodox groups, most notably the Hasidics of Gur.

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The Communists are Coming!

Posted: November 10th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Three things to watch in the municipal election this Tuesday:

1. Tel Aviv: Mayor Ron Huldai is running for a third term after 10 years in office, backed by both Kadima and Labor parties. On the previous election Huldai won in a landslide without really campaigning, but public opinion of him has changed in the last two years. Huldai has failed to address the problem of raising rent and further worsened the situation for himsels by declaring that this was a normal result of the free market. Tel Aviv during his time in office became so attractive, he claimed, that everyone wanted to live in it. Huldai, a former pilot for the Air Force, who became a national figure as the successful principal of one of the city’s most prestigious high schools, has also made some unpopular decisions, such as taking down the legendary Osishkin basketball arena, home of Hapoel Tel Aviv, the second most popular team in the city.
His surprising challenger is MK Dov Khenin of Hadash, the radical left wing party. Khenin has built an Obama-like coalition of representatives from the poor neighborhoods in the south of the city, and the young students, journalists and bohemian crowd from the city center. Khenin is the grandson of an important Chabad rabbi, and was the former chairman of the “Environment and Life” organization, which amalgamates most of the environmental organizations in Israel.
The polls gave Huldai a 20 plus points advantage just a month ago, but the race has tightened since and the margin is considered to be in the high single digit area. Still, even the slight chance that a communist like Khenin will lead Israel’s cultural and financial capital is surprising, to say the least, considering the current political atmosphere.
My prediction: Huldai, by a margin of 15 points or more.

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