Whenever Likud politicians speculated about the future of their party in recent
years, they mentioned two “inevitable” events they believed would strengthen it
into the kind of solid ruling party Israel had in the days of Mapai: The death
of Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and the conviction of Yisrael
Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.
The former event took place a month ago.
Tens of thousands of non-haredi Sephardi voters are now seen as political free
agents who can potentially be returned to the Likud, the party they or their
parents supported before the emergence of Shas.
The latter event did not
turn out as well for the Likud. For much of the past 17 years, when Liberman was
under investigation and on trial, his conviction seemed just as much a foregone
conclusion as the rabbi’s eventual death.
But the legal establishment
that pursued Liberman relentlessly ended up with nothing to show for all of its
work, despite huge amounts of taxpayer funds spent on the effort, which involved
sending investigators to Belarus, Austria and Cyprus to question people and
search for clues.
Now, that very legal establishment that tried so hard
to bring Liberman down has empowered him tremendously. Although Liberman always
mocked and downplayed the impact of the investigations on him, his associates
said that when his acquittal was announced, they could see how relieved he
Even when the investigations were at their peak, Liberman would tell
reporters who asked how he was doing that life was “the Garden of
When they would ask whether he was worried, he would respond that
his only concern was improving at tennis.
The investigations began before
Liberman’s political career, when he was a top aide to Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu. Liberman has never had a day in politics without a legal cloud
hovering over his head until now.
Liberman has been liber-ated. Like a
prisoner released from jail, a slave in the American South following the US
Civil War, or a wife who receives a get ending an unhappy marriage, he is now
emancipated and unfettered.
“Freedom is not a license for chaos,” the dot
memorably told the line in the classic book The Dot and the Line: A Romance in
Lower Mathematics by The Phantom Tollbooth author Norton Juster 50 years
So how does Liberman intend to handle his newfound freedom? The
answer is everything Netanyahu and the international community fears, and more.
He will use his 11 mandates to advance the causes he believes in, and prevent
the government from taking steps he opposes.
That means he will make sure
his electoral reform plans pass into law. Anyone who thought he would compromise
better think twice.
Beforehand, it looked like the proposal to double the
electoral threshold from 2 percent to 4% would be toned down to a more modest
3%. Now, the Arab parties will have to seriously consider getting past their
differences and uniting ahead of the next election.
On matters of
religion and state, Liberman has been frustrated that Yesh Atid stole his
party’s agenda and copied proposals on issues like conversion, civil unions and
reforming the rabbinate.
Who remembers that “service for all” was the
platform of Yisrael Beytenu long before Yesh Atid was born? From now on,
Liberman will make his presence felt on those issues. The haredim who prevented
him from getting his confidant Moshe Lion elected mayor of Jerusalem will pay a
price for betraying the promises they made Liberman, whose slogan is that his
word is his bond.
The proposal to draft yeshiva students will be advanced
with full force. Liberman intends to see to it that criminal sanctions for draft
evaders will not be removed from the bill.
But the issue behind which
Liberman will throw his weight the most is the peace process with the
Palestinians. Last time he was foreign minister, Liberman for the most part
stayed out of that realm, which didn’t go anywhere anyway, due to mistakes made
in Washington and elsewhere.
Now, Liberman intends to make sure that
Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni do not make concessions that would be
unacceptable to him. He will not let her make serious decisions without his
consent. If she has to leave the coalition, so be it.
The rest of the
coalition is fine with Liberman, who does not want to see haredi parties or
He believes the coalition can advance key issues, as long as
its new ministers and MKs learn to work better together.
frustrated that there has been friction in the coalition over relatively minor
issues. He believes the coalition in the previous government was less cohesive
but more stable.
But the first step Liberman will take will result in
At Yisrael Beytenu’s November 24 convention, the bond
with the Likud that began ahead of the general election is likely to be
Liberman believes the bond has outlived its usefulness and
prevented Yisrael Beytenu from expressing itself on key issues. He fears his
party’s identity could be lost in the Likud’s shadow. And he wants his
The Likud had intended to woo Yisrael Beytenu’s
Russian-speaking voters when Liberman was in jail and Shas supporters when Yosef
was in the ground. The latter plans will move forward.
The plans to bring
about the demise of Yisrael Beytenu will be put on hold, but not thrown
After all, there could always be another investigation.