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.

10 Comments on “Netanyahu’s government: from here it’s all downhill”

  1. 1 maayan said at 2:07 pm on October 21st, 2010:

    I’d like to see impartial polling numbers. My guess is that Netanyahu is very afraid of elections because he knows Lieberman will get many of the votes that would go to Likud and Netanyahu. He has been outflanked already and looks like a centrist compared to Lieberman.

    The votes Lieberman would be stealing from the Right are Likud votes, not Kadima votes. He just needs 6 or 7 more seats, stolen from Likud, to match their numbers. Labor is not a strong contender at all, especially if Barak is leader.

    This suggests that elections bring about either a Kadima government with Likud as junior partner and Labor to buttress the left flank of the equation, or possibly even a Lieberman led government with Likud as the junior key partner. I suspect that the Likud would rather marry Kadima than Lieberman, but either way going to elections is a terrible idea for the Likud. For these reasons, Livni would be an idiot for joining the coalition right now. She actually has a chance of becoming PM, thanks to none other than Avigdor Lieberman.

  2. 2 noam said at 5:27 pm on October 21st, 2010:

    For once, we almost agree (I’m not sure that Lieberman can pass the 20 seats, but it’s not impossible). I agree that it’s not in Livni’s interest to enter the government. she probably knows that, but if Mofaz pushes hard to enter, she might not have a choice.

    I think we could have polls soon, maybe next weekend.

  3. 3 rick said at 3:35 pm on October 22nd, 2010:

    algeria was called to be part of the heartland of france till de gaulle ended the occupation. earlier he was elected as president and won more than 70% of votes by saying he would never do such a move.

  4. 4 maayan said at 12:32 pm on October 23rd, 2010:

    Hey Noam, did you see this?

    Tibi seems to agree with you about discrimination in Israel. I especially enjoyed the part where he blames Israel for the “open sewage” running through Arab towns without blaming this on Arab families not paying their arnona municipal taxes, or misrepresenting the size of their household in order to pay less.

    An Israeli MK goes to an American newspaper and tries to undermine Israel in every way possible (including its defensive needs, since the majority of American aid goes to defense) and tomorrow he’ll be back in the Knesset voting on equal footing with all the other MKs on whether the Netanyahu government should be ousted or not. Nice job, if you can get it. Nice country, if you can do things like this and get away with them.

  5. 5 Tom Mitchell said at 2:50 pm on October 23rd, 2010:

    The French until 1959 and the Italians had even shakier governments than Israel has but they had perfected the art of rejuggling the parties without needing to call new elections. As you mentioned, when Israeli governments collapse or are close to that point new elections are called. But whereas the French 4th Rep. lasted for only 12 years, Israel has already gone through more than 20 years of governments collapsing over the peace process. Many Arabs, with no experience of democracy, see this as part of some grand confidence game to cheat them out of series negotiations. When the West begins believing this as well, Israel will be in trouble.

  6. 6 Y. said at 12:06 pm on October 30th, 2010:

    A. Huldai is a very very weak candidate. If Hanin could get so much of the vote in TA mayoral elections (when Hanin would get very little everywhere else), than it means even TA doesn’t strongly support Huldai. If Huldai can’t get a stable powerbase in TA, I can’t imagine he succeeds countrywide.

    Besides, mayors make for poor candidate in general (compare the abysmal record of NY mayors running for higher office in America[1]) – they can’t claim much experience in either governing or campaigning, yet they still get a “kupat shartzim” on their backs and the suspicion of supporting only the interests of their city.

    B. The investigations into Lieberman are going for ten years now.

    It’s pretty obvious the investigation itself is corrupted by political interests – any honest investigation would have ended one way or the other by now. The only question is whether it’s an interest in destroying/ blackmailing Lieberman (which would be better served by waiting a bit more, like before an election or a major move in the process) or an interest in protecting Lieberman (which would obviously never indict him, at least as long as he’s in the government). Or both. Either way, I don’t think there’ll be any indictment soon.

    C. A smart Livni would have accepted being in the government in the first place, rather than trying to repeat Likud’s 2006 strategy – the positions are different. The Left in Israel is becoming more and more demographically inferior in addition to its other woes, therefor the Likud could count on a recovery while Livni can’t. Worse, I can’t imagine the other left-wing parties just letting her steal all their votes this time, so Livni will have to fight both sides.


  7. 7 Y. said at 12:47 pm on October 30th, 2010:

    The blog has corrupted the link. This one will (hopefully) work:

  8. 8 noam said at 6:15 pm on October 31st, 2010:


    this time I don’t agree with you:

    regarding Liebermn: first, Lieberman himself did all he could to prolong the investigation, so the prosecution & police is to still blame for these unusually prolonged proceedings, but also Lieberman.

    anyway, I think we will have a decision – it’s impossible to guess what exactly – in the next few months, possibly even earlier. According to Ben Caspit, The government’s attorney even took a few days off recently to review the file.

    2. Livni – staying out of the government was probably the best move she ever did. this is what got Netanyahu to the current troubles he is in. it was not an easy bet, and she nearly lost her own party, but now it’s beginning to pay off (notice how Mofaz is silent recently? – he gets it too). she even polls better now, they say.

    3. Huldai: I will write a post in the next few days explaining why i think he can be a strong candidate. so let’s leave this one for later.

  9. 9 Y. said at 1:00 am on November 1st, 2010:

    After writing my previous comment, I found this leak (of uncertain veracity) about Lieberman’s case: (“Weinstein: Lieberman will be prosecuted”)

    Nevertheless, it doesn’t look like an completely honest process to me. A cynic might think it can still go on. However, I sincerely hope you’re right – a resolution is long overdue.

    As for Nethanyahu, he is in not much more (internal) trouble than most Israeli PMs by this time of the term. It is common knowledge most Israeli coalitions split before the term is done. That’s not enough to stop the right block from getting a majority next time under whomever.

    Livni’s problem is that she must appeal to voters outside the typical left to win, and being nigh-alone in the opposition made her by default the representative of the Left which is an hindrance right now. Attacking the Ultra-Orthodox may gain a few votes, but also distances away any possible coalition with these parties. Of course, all this ignores whatever developments happen in foreign policy, but my crystal ball is under repair right now.

    I’ll await your post re: Huldai.

  10. 10 noam said at 5:21 am on November 1st, 2010:

    Y- that’s true, but Netanyahu’s coalition was considered much stronger than that of previous PMs.

    As for Livni, I tend to agree on her ability to appeal to both sides, but the fact that she continued to poll well since the elections until now makes me think that maybe she is doing something right after all. And I’m sure that going to the right won’t make her stronger, as competition there is fierce. the vacuum, as you mentioned, is on the center-left, so that’s where she turned.