Analysis: Rags to riches for Liberman

Fourteen months ago, his Yisrael Beytenu party nearly failed to pass the electoral threshold that was raised at Liberman’s initiative in order to block Arab parties from entering the Knesset.

By
May 19, 2016 03:19
3 minute read.
Avigdor Liberman

Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 American film legend Orson Welles wrote, “Nobody gets justice: People only get good luck or bad luck.”

After many years of criminal investigations and bad luck, Avigdor Liberman now has gotten more good luck than he could have dreamed of in the not too distant past.

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Fourteen months ago, his Yisrael Beytenu party nearly failed to pass the electoral threshold that was raised at Liberman’s initiative in order to block Arab parties from entering the Knesset.

Only on Tuesday, it seemed that Liberman’s nemesis, Joint List head Ayman Odeh, would become the head of the opposition in the Knesset that Liberman had been a part of. Odeh would have received regular security briefings while Liberman kvetched outside.

Wednesday, Liberman brilliantly called Netanyahu’s bluff. The prime minister had been using Liberman’s refusal to join the coalition as a pretext to persuade Likud hawks of the need for the Zionist Union to join a unity government. Netanyahu’s associates pushed reporters to use a quote expressing disappointment that Liberman was preventing a wide, rightwing coalition.

Channel 10 even reported that Netanyahu had offered Liberman the Defense portfolio, and he rejected it. Liberman denied the report, but the politician with a reputation for having a short temper did not get angry. He got even by accepting the offer.

Now Liberman, who was once a bouncer in a Jerusalem night club, will be in charge of the latest F-35 planes, tanks and antimissile defense systems.

His party will once again control the Immigration and Absorption Ministry to help his Russian immigrant constituents, and Yisrael Beytenu, which saw two new MKs leave out of boredom, has regained its self-respect.

The opposite can be said of Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, who, just Tuesday, looked like he would soon be criss-crossing capitals and pitching peace processes as foreign minister. Now that even his low asking price to enter the coalition was rejected by Netanyahu, his chances of getting reelected Labor leader have nosedived.

Herzog warned Netanyahu on Wednesday afternoon that he was choosing between funerals and hope, craziness and sanity. But a few moments later his own sanity had to be questioned when he said that if the prime minister chose Liberman, he and the Zionist Union would bring down the government from the opposition.

If Herzog could not bring down a narrow majority of one that relied on rebellious MK Oren Hazan, how will he topple a solid, 67-MK coalition that is about to pass a two-year budget? But the biggest loser of the day was actually soon-to-be former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. Even if he winds up becoming foreign minister, the man who built himself up as Israel’s top security authority will now have to give his job to one of his fiercest critics.

Ya’alon’s departure will prove once again that politicians who challenge Netanyahu from within the Likud, as he dared do in recent weeks, pay a hefty price. Politicians on the Center- Left had even talked about supporting him as a challenger to Netanyahu, making him that much more vulnerable to the prime minister’s revenge.

When nearly every Likud minister put out a statement Wednesday calling for Liberman to join the government, it was not only due to their ideological disputes with Herzog but also because they wanted to see their rival Ya’alon fall from grace.

Netanyahu and Ya’alon held a regularly scheduled meeting on security issues Wednesday.

Both sides said afterward that the defense minister’s job security did not come up.

But Liberman was waiting outside, and left his meeting with Netanyahu having received exactly what he wanted.

Liberman emerged the big winner Wednesday, but he should keep in mind another Welles quote for the future.

“If you want a happy ending,” Welles said, “that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”


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