Prepare for it. The writing is on the wall. The leaders of the recently formed
national unity government came together for short-term, tactical reasons. Kadima
needed to postpone the election set for early September or face electoral
disaster; Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to broaden his coalition and blunt the power
of his growingly restive opponents both within the coalition and his party,
while Ehud Barak, the matchmaker in all this, survives yet another immediate
threat to his political career.
We all understand the short-term needs
that brought them all together into the mammoth coalition government Israel now
has, but what of the slightly longer term? Do we really see Netanyahu and Shaul
Mofaz, who came to Kadima from the Likud, and has now returned to the Likud with
Kadima, living together in unity and harmony? Somehow, I don’t think
Whether true or not, Netanyahu has to be suspicious of Mofaz using
his time in the government to plot a takeover of the Likud, and then become
prime minister as Mofaz has said he intends to do. This would not be a totally
paranoid assumption given the path of Mofaz’s political career until now, which
may have zigged and zagged and showed little ideological depth or commitment,
but which has always moved forward and continued to do so. Few thought he had a
chance against Matan Vilna’i to be named chief of staff, yet he was. His chances
of becoming defense minister when he was hardly out of uniform were thought be
zero, yet he did.
He then took over Kadima, as he said he would, and has
now reiterated several times that he intends to be prime minister, including
during visits to the Western Wall and Theodor Herzl’s grave after winning the
leadership of Kadima, and for that he needs the Likud, so Netanyahu watch
What does this mean for national unity, one asks. The harbinger,
perhaps, could be seen in the three rounds of balloting it took for the Knesset
to approve the government’s choice for the next state
Despite the massive, almost unprecedented, numbers at his
disposal, the prime minister was powerless to get his way; coalition discipline
has seldom been weaker; instead of unity, democratic anarchy seemed to be at
The national unity government’s first joint venture ended in a
shambles. The comptroller was eventually elected, but the process was
disheartening when considering the 18 or so months to come before the next
national election is scheduled.
Personally, I am relieved there is no
election this September.
Who wants to come back from vacation and start the year with jingles and rants from the politicians as we try and get the kids
ready for the new school year, not to mention the waste of money and the end
result which would have been more of the same. But ask me whether I think this
national unity government is a good idea, especially with the characters
involved, and I would answer with an unequivocal “no.”
This is not going
to be a good experience. It is not natural for the largest party in the Knesset
to a member of a governing coalition with the largest cabinet in Israel’s
history, and yet have no power, no portfolios, and no instruments of furthering
its lawmakers’ political careers. Their presence is also a de facto threat to
the other coalition partners who now hold these seats of power and influence,
and whose political futures depend on retaining them. They, too, better than the
rest of us, understand the latent threat of Kadima’s power waiting for a seat at
the cabinet table. This type of scenario does not make for national unity. The
opposite is true.
Thus from the pinnacle down, with Netanyahu having to
look over his shoulder and the current cabinet ministers in fear of their
futures, the national challenges facing Israel, the stated reason why Mofaz led
his flock back into the fold, will be set aside as party politics begins to
possess all. We have yet to see what pans out when the Knesset is faced with
real issues, like redrafting the “Tal Law,” but I would not hold out too much
hope. The state comptroller fiasco was but the tip of the iceberg in terms of
what we can expect.
National unity, I can assure you, will be at the
bottom of the list.
On the morning of the announcement of Kadima’s move
into the coalition, many woke up with the thought that this was a sure sign
Israel was preparing to attack Iran. At least five people phoned me on the
issue, commentators went to town on it, and some serious reporters even reported
this as a fact. I, however, fear our leaders had something else entirely on
their minds when they declared their unity government: their respective
political futures, not the country’s existential problems.
That, I can
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for
National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
His latest book, The
Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the National Jewish Book Award in the History
category for 2011.