Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s surprise unity government deal with Kadima
leader Shaul Mofaz has reasonably triggered mass speculation regarding the
premier’s ulterior motives.
The first question is whether or not this
move was somehow motivated by Netanyahu’s plans for contending with Iran’s
nuclear weapons program.
It is hard to see how the formation of the unity
government will impact Netanyahu’s policy options on that score. If the
elections had been carried out in September, as we thought, Netanyahu would
certainly have been reelected. US President Barack Obama, concerned about his
foreign policy bona fides and the Jewish vote on the eve of his reelection bid,
would have been unable to undermine Netanyahu on Iran or just about anything
else. So from Netanyahu’s perspective, a September election date immunized him
from White House pressure.
True, Mofaz has been parroting former Mossad
chief Meir Dagan’s attacks on Netanyahu, but those criticisms have had no impact
on Netanyahu’s options or public standing. This is particularly true because
Dagan and his associates actually share Netanyahu’s assessment of the Iranian
threat. They all say that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons it will constitute an
existential threat to Israel.
They all say that if all other options
fail, that Israel will be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear installations
militarily. They just don’t want Netanyahu to be the man dealing with the issue
because they hate him personally.
Dagan and his colleagues, Mofaz, and
Obama all know that the Israeli public will rally around Netanyahu in the event
he orders an attack. So widening the coalition would only impact his decision on
Iran at the margins, if at all. It is true that from the perspective of
political optics, it is better for Netanyahu to order an attack on Iran with a
massive coalition standing behind him.
Some on the right have voiced
concerns that Netanyahu wants this coalition so he can reinstate negotiations
with the Palestinians and withdraw from Judea and Samaria. Maybe. But it’s hard
to see why Netanyahu would want to go full speed ahead on that issue. What would
he stand to gain? Moreover, the Palestinians are the ones who ended the talks,
not Netanyahu. And with Islamists rising to power throughout the Arab world and
in Egypt particularly, Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas has no incentive to return to
ASIDE FROM that, it is possible that Netanyahu will use the
cover he gets from Kadima to destroy homes in Beit El along the lines that the
Supreme Court has ordered by July. But he probably would have done it anyway –
or not. It all depends on what he thinks he can get away with. If he decides not
to destroy them, it will be easier for him to stand up the Supreme Court, whose
decision doesn’t pass the laugh test, with a coalition of 94 than with a
coalition of 66. And it will be easier for him to bow to the decision of the
Supreme Court with a coalition of 94 than a coalition of 66.
Here it is
important to note that to a large extent, Netanyahu has built his present power
on his refusal to commit seriously to any binding position on the Palestinians.
It is hard to see how he stands to gain from following in former prime minister
Ariel Sharon’s footsteps and betraying his political camp and ideology
When taken on its merits, the unity deal is an example of a
situation in which Netanyahu was presented with an offer he’d be an idiot to
refuse. In return for essentially nothing, he built himself the strongest and
largest coalition Israel has ever seen. He gave Mofaz nothing but breathing
space for a year.
Mofaz didn’t even receive a governing portfolio. And in
exchange for his parsimonious offer, Mofaz gave Netanyahu unprecedented power
and political stability for more than a year.
Mofaz’s reason for acting
as he did is clear. Kadima was set to lose half its seats in the Knesset in the
It may still lose half its seats in the next election. It
may split apart. A million things can happen. But Mofaz probably figured that
whereas if the elections were held in September he’d be blamed for the loss, by
October 2013, he will have figured out someone else to blame for the defeat of
Finally, there is an economic aspect to this decision. By
bringing Kadima into his coalition, Netanyahu effectively ensured that his free
market economic policies will be maintained and the socialist voices in Israeli
politics will be marginalized for the next year or so.
With France going
socialist, Israel’s Left, led by Labor Party leader and Marxist Shelly
Yacimovich would have had more resonance in the public for its statist, deficit
spending economic platform.
Now Netanyahu got another year during which
the public will see what those policies are doing to Europe and so make his
economic arguments for him.
All in all this is a great day for Netanyahu.
It is to be hoped that he won’t use his new strength to destroy his political
party as Sharon did before him. No previous action on Netanyahu’s part lends to
But certainly Likud members who are in politics to
represent and advance their values and not just to gain power for power’s sake
need to think carefully about their strengths and weaknesses.
to base their actions over the next year on a strategy that maximizes the former
and minimizes the latter understanding all the time that they are dealing with
an incredibly powerful party leader.