If there is one thing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently sought
in the months since election rumors began to fly, it’s control.
statements on the topic coming from Likud sources have said that the prime
minister will decide when to go to the polls and by the way, the government has
been doing a great job for the past three years.
The Prime Minister’s
Office has noticeably avoided commenting on the topic, not mentioning the word
“elections” in press releases from a meeting with “Camp Sucker” activists and
Sunday’s cabinet meeting, though other attendees said the topic was
It seems as though Netanyahu’s strategy is to avoid discussing
elections, to appear above the melee of politicians trying to predict his next
However, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Yisrael Beytenu are
out to foil that plan, flexing their muscles as – Liberman’s favorite nickname
for his party – the senior coalition member.
Throughout the three years
since the coalition was formed, Yisrael Beytenu has been issuing thinly-veiled
threats to break it apart, all the while saying they favor stability. For the
most part, Liberman’s actions spoke louder than his threats, and his party has
been a supportive and responsible senior coalition partner.
and Sunday, however, Liberman repeatedly made it clear that stability is no
longer his priority.
Yisrael Beytenu fulfilled its obligations, we were a
faithful member of the coalition, now Netanyahu must keep his promises in the
coalition agreement, the foreign minister said.
If the prime minister
backs out on the agreements, Liberman added, there will probably be
Yisrael Beytenu will put the interests of the voter before
those of the coalition.
Think back to the Liberman’s last election
campaign. What did he promise to voters? “No loyalty, no
Yisrael Beytenu ran on a platform of requiring loyalty
oaths for Israeli citizens that do not qualify under the Law of Return. The bill
was stymied by poor timing, since the government was worried about a unilateral
declaration of Palestinian statehood. Once that was no longer a concern,
Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein said there are constitutional issues with the
bill, and it has remained on hold.
The party had some minor successes in
the loyalty front, such as passing a law that revokes citizenship from anyone
convicted of treason, terror or aiding the enemy in a time of war. However,
Yisrael Beytenu’s flagship policy, its top elections slogan, is stuck in
Since then, it looks like the senior coalition partner has
replaced “loyalty” with “equality” – equality through universally requiring IDF
or civilian service, that is – and is ready to take down the government if they
don’t at least succeed in their plan B.
As far as Liberman is concerned,
the next 10 days are crucial. On May 9, his party’s alternative to the “Tal Law”
will go up to a vote in the Knesset.
This, according to Liberman, is
Netanyahu’s test. If the law passes, then the prime minister appreciates Yisrael
Beytenu’s value to the coalition, and stability is top priority again. If not,
then it’s time for elections.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, is keeping mostly
quiet, with the occasional comment from Likud ministers and sources in his
office about “not giving in to blackmail.”
In other words, the prime
minister is interested in keeping his intentions mysterious and maintaining the
However, with everyone from Meretz to Yisrael Beytenu saying
early elections should be called in the next few weeks (meaning they will be
held in three months), rumors have been flying about options that Netanyahu is
One theory, floated mostly by Meretz and Kadima, is that the
prime minister is working with Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, who recently
submitted a bill to dissolve the Knesset. Yacimovich has yet to decide when the
bill will be put to a vote, leading her opponents to say she’s waiting for an OK
The prime minister would benefit from that scenario by
appearing to favor stability and not bringing down the coalition on his
Netanyahu and Yacimovich would both do well with this plan, since
they have been polling relatively well in recent weeks. Plus, a Labor- Likud
partnership would certainly help Netanyahu maintain the element of
Of course, Yacimovich denies this rumor.
is that Netanyahu does not want early elections at all, as he has said in recent
Nothing is certain about the supposedly upcoming elections except
for one thing: Netanyahu wants the upper hand, and will do whatever he can to
keep Liberman from grabbing it.