For Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, 2010 ended much the way it began. The
headlines the first week of the year were about stalled peace talks, renewed
tension with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
making controversial comments that didn’t really surprise anyone.
following line was in the January 1 newspaper: “There is optimism in Jerusalem
that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will succeed in persuading Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to renew negotiations with
That line could just as easily be in a newspaper on January 1,
2011, as Netanyahu prepares for his key visit to Egypt next week, in which he
will be talking to Mubarak about how to bring Abbas back to the
Will that line also be applicable to January 1, 2012? The answer
could go a long way toward deciding the legacies of Netanyahu, Abbas and US
President Barack Obama, as well as Mubarak, whose reportedly poor health puts
his involvement in the peace process a year from now in question.
are that Netanyahu will still be prime minister a year from now. A Dialog Poll
broadcast on Channel 10 last week found that 45 percent of Israelis consider
Netanyahu more fitting to be prime minister and just 25% prefer opposition
leader Tzipi Livni.
But there is no guarantee that there will not be an
election in 2011 or that a date for a race will not be set.
a difficult time ahead balancing a coalition that is diverse both on matters of
religion and state and war and peace.
This past week, he lost the
services of his talented political adviser Shalom Shlomo, who a year ago nearly
persuaded seven Kadima MKs to leave their party – a move that could have
guaranteed Netanyahu an almost unprecedented full term in office, with elections
on time on October 22, 2013. Shlomo, who quit to pursue other opportunities, has
said that politicians begin acting more independently the moment they believe a
term is half over.
Lieberman and Shas chairman Eli Yishai have both been
giving Netanyahu headaches lately. Three weeks ago, a close confidant of
Netanyahu said that as the next election approaches, he expects both to act
He explained that because Lieberman no longer
believes there is any chance of Kadima joining the coalition and Livni replacing
him in the Foreign Ministry, he feels freer to flex his political muscles now
that a strong deterrent Netanyahu used against him is no longer
But that could change soon. Now that the 43-day state prosecutors’
strike is over, a decision whether to indict Lieberman on corruption charges is
looming. In the likely event that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announces an
indictment, Lieberman has said he would resign, even though he is not legally
obligated to do so.
If that happens, Israel Beiteinu’s ability to wreak
havoc will be severely handicapped. And if Lieberman is fighting to save his
career in court, he will want the next election put off as long as
The ability of Yishai to threaten Netanyahu took a hit when he
was attacked by his number two, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias,
and when former Shas leader Aryeh Deri started making headlines again. Yishai
was seared by the Carmel Forest fire, damaging fights over IDF conversions,
exemptions from military service and preventing the expansion of Ashkelon’s
Barzilai Medical Center due to the presence of ancient graves on the
The more Yishai looks like a lame duck leader in his own party, the
less he will want to see an election date set in the next year.
OF lame ducks, there is no doubt that unpopular Labor chairman Ehud Barak does
not want an election any time soon either. But he, unlike Lieberman and Yishai,
has a real party infrastructure to deal with.
A Labor convention is due
to be held in January that will vote on Welfare and Social Services Minister
Isaac Herzog’s proposal to advance the party’s leadership race from October 2012
to June 2011 and on Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman’s initiative
to leave the coalition if immediate progress is not made in the peace
Kadima accused Netanyahu this week of reaching a deal with the
National Union to eventually replace Labor in the coalition. A Kadima spokesman
said this was why National Union MKs Ya’acov Katz and Uri Ariel voted for the
state budget that passed Wednesday.
A coalition of the 65 right-wing MKs
looks very stable on paper. But the truth is that Netanyahu does not want to go
to an election in which he will have to fight Livni for centrist voters as the
leader of a right-wing government full of settlers and haredim.
Netanyahu also wants to keep Barak by his side as long as possible, because he
wants him to stay in the Defense Ministry dealing with preventing the
nuclearization of Iran, which is the issue that Netanyahu cares about more than
any other and that he believes will decide his legacy.
A date for the
Labor convention has not yet been set, but whenever it takes place will be seen
as a deadline to get talks with the Palestinians on track. Jerusalem Post
blogger Shmuel Rosner wrote that someone checked discreetly whether US Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton would know how to hint to Labor officials that the
talks were making enough progress to justify staying in the coalition, and they
received a positive response.
Netanyahu’s associates do not doubt Obama’s
resolve to advance the diplomatic process. They know his admission that he “got
some toes blown off” mishandling US-Israel relations will not decrease his
motivation to try harder to solve the conflict.
Obama, unlike Netanyahu,
has the benefit of knowing when his next election will take place. Because 2012
is an election year in the US, 2011 will be a key year for him to try to advance
his lofty goals in the Mideast before he has to start campaigning in the
How much Netanyahu and Abbas cooperate will go along way toward
determining how 2011 will be remembered in this newspaper a year from now.