binyamin netanyahu 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Even though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will succeed in passing the state
budget at the end of the month, he can start counting down the days. Unless he,
two years too late, finally decides to act like a leader and seeks to articulate
and then implement a vision for the country, his coalition will shatter along
the numerous fault lines running between the different parties.
week’s battle between Shas and Israel Beiteinu over the validity of IDF
conversions was the first skirmish and there are plenty more to come,
particularly along religious-secular issues.
Labor, meanwhile, will
belatedly realize that its continued membership in a government that has not
only done nothing to advance the peace process, but has actually torpedoed it,
is unconscionable. Indeed, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-
Eliezer’s sudden support for Amram Mitzna as a suitable candidate for the Labor
leadership is a sign that the party is beginning to stir from its
There is, of course, a certain irony in Ben-Eliezer’s support
for Mitzna, given the fact that he lost out to him for the Labor leadership in
2002 and then proceeded to make the new leader’s life a misery until Mitzna
abandoned the role after leading Labor to its second worst electoral performance
In terms of his personal qualities, there can be no doubting
Mitzna’s stature: A truly modest man with high moral standards, he was an
outstanding IDF major-general who successfully made the switch to civilian life,
winning two elections as mayor of Haifa before becoming Labor leader. After
quitting national politics, he then ran the Negev town of Yeroham for the past
five years as an appointed mayor, getting it back on its feet following the
incompetence of the town’s elected administration. But the question still
remains as to whether he has the political cunning and strength of character to
lead a national party as disputatious as Labor.
THE REASON for all this
sudden ferment in the coalition is twofold. Firstly, it’s the natural state of a
government halfway through its nominal four-year term.
politicians realize there’s less than two years to go, they begin looking toward
the next election and start staking out positions to strengthen both their own
standing within the party and to differentiate their party from the others in
Needless to say, this has a deleterious effect on
coalition discipline. Differences of views between the parties turn into
irreconcilable (at least until after the election) fractures, and the government
either falls or the prime minister decides he can no longer face his so-called
allies around the cabinet table and schedules an early election.
second reason is the absence of leadership.
Netanyahu might see himself
as a Churchillian figure, warning of the dangers of Iran, but in reality, the
prime minister he most resembles is Yitzhak Shamir, the least successful and
most forgotten of all Israeli premiers, although, to give him his due, he made
one very brave and decidedly out-of-character decision: not to retaliate when
Iraq fired Scud missiles at the country during the First Gulf War.
aside from that one decision not to undermine the US-led coalition by
independently attacking Baghdad, Shamir was a disaster. His policy of
obstructing any attempt to make peace (most notably Shimon Peres’ 1987 London
Agreement with Jordan’s King Hussein), coupled with his enthusiasm for
settlement in the West Bank, led to strained ties with the US and, later, the
outbreak of the first intifada in 1987. Ultimately, Shamir’s intransigence was
of no benefit, he finally had to agree to the 1991 international peace
conference in Madrid, seen by many as the stepping stone to the Oslo
Like Shamir, Netanyahu wants to block rather than promote any
attempt to make peace. Following in the footsteps of another disgraced premier,
Golda Meir, Netanyahu fails to understand that a diplomatic freeze will
eventually lead to disaster. On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the country was
enjoying a period of economic prosperity, just as today the Tel Aviv Stock
Exchange is breaking records almost daily.
But in the absence of peace,
this sense of well-being is illusory, as Meir found out to the country’s huge
cost. When Netanyahu returned to the premiership a decade after his first term,
he said he had learned the lessons of the past and was ready to lead us into a
safe and secure future. Halfway into his second term, he has shown no such
leadership and his premiership so far has been one, massive waste of
And time is the one luxury Israel does not enjoy if it wishes to
remain a Jewish and democratic country.The writer is a former
editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.