Intrigue always gets high ratings

The Netanyahu-Mofaz agreement saved the Treasury millions of shekels by torpedoing the national election proposed for September 4.

By JAY BUSHINSKY
May 10, 2012 23:28
4 minute read.
Binyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz

Binyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Israelis love intrigue. That explains the overwhelming enthusiasm with which the rank and file greeted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s deal with the centrist Kadima Party’s leader, Shaul Mofaz, to bring it into the government coalition.

Netanyahu launched secret negotiations late last week between Kadima and his right-wing Likud Party that culminated in Mofaz’s consent Monday to join and in so doing become his deputy as well and a minister-withoutportfolio.

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They came to an agreement at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, well after most if not all of the reporters and columnists who deal with domestic politics had gone to sleep.

When the hourly news broadcast went on the air at 5 a.m. it dealt with only one subject: the meeting of minds between Netanyahu and Mofaz and the consequent cancellation of the projected national election on September 4. The latter is one of the deal’s most popular features.

The new Likud-Kadima combination could inject badly needed momentum into the moribund process of making peace with the Palestinians. It could encourage Netanyahu and the Likud’s relative moderates to make more enticing territorial concessions to them and at the same time stop the creeping annexation of the West Bank being promoted by Jewish extremists intent on settling there.

If this results in the resumption of the bilateral negotiations that have been stymied for three years, Israel’s international standing would be substantially enhanced, many of its foreign critics would be silenced and its ability to mobilize multinational opposition to Iran’s effort to develop nuclear weapons would be reenforced.

Although most of Kadima’s members are defectors from the Likud, they do not advocate massive Jewish settlement projects and evidently are not enthusiastic about the seemingly endless prospect of ruling over an inherently rebellious and largely hostile Palestinian population.

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Mofaz would compensate the Palestinians for some, much or most of the land which was allocated by the socalled civil administration to Jewish settlers, by ceding a commensurate amount of territory west of the 1949 ceasefire line.

Even if Kadima’s membership in the government coalition does not ratchet up the negotiating process, it could help implement badly needed economic and social reforms.

With regard to the latter category, it could expedite replacement of the Tal Law whose clauses make it possible for ultra-Orthodox young men and women to be exempted from national service, military or civil, by legislation that would reduce exemptions to a bare minimum.

Kadima’s 28-member Knesset faction agrees that all of Israel’s citizens should serve regardless of their religious denomination or ethnic affiliation. This would help do away with the notion that Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens because they are not subject to military conscription. (At best, they can volunteer for it if they so desire.) On the other hand, the alliance with Kadima is unlikely to strengthen Netanyahu’s hand when it comes to dealing with the protest movement which is likely to renew its demonstrations this summer. If tents are pitched again along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and their inhabitants revert to the rhythmic battle cry, “The people want social justice,” it is doubtful that either the prime minister or his new deputy will confront them in person or deter them from afar.

Kadima does not have an impressive platform for economic or social reforms. Nor does it have a plan for closing the gap between a relatively small number of tycoons and a multitude of financially strapped citizens.

At least one positive comment is appropriate, though. The Netanyahu-Mofaz agreement saved the Treasury millions of shekels by torpedoing the national election that the prime minister had proposed for September 4. Instead, the incumbent coalition with its new component, Kadima, will serve another 17 months and the next national election will be held as originally scheduled, in October 2013.

The bottom line is that Netanyahu’s new coalition will have an unprecedented Knesset majority: 94 of its 120 seats. This surely can enable him to enact legislation designed to solve many of Israel’s major problems. These include the illegal migrants infiltrating the country and staying here indefinitely without constructive programs to integrate them into society or to deport them elsewhere. Unfortunately, however, the ability to muster votes is insufficient. There also must be viable solutions to this problem and many others and it is doubtful if either the Likud or Kadima has them.

One other matter is the practical meaning of Kadima’s coalition membership. At this stage, only one of its leaders is due to benefit – Mofaz. No offers have been made to his second-echelon colleagues, most of whom quit the Likud and founded Kadima in the hope that it would open the way for them to regain senior government posts.

The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent.

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