(photo credit: DR)
For perhaps the first time since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government
was sworn in on the night of March 31, 2009, there was a genuine atmosphere of
pre-election euphoria in the Knesset last week.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai
threatened that his party would no longer respect coalition discipline if
legislation was advanced that would grant IDF conversions independence from the
Chief Rabbinate by bestowing authority on the IDF chief rabbi to be the final
signatory on military conversions.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor
Lieberman called a press conference to issue his own threats about what would
happen should the bill not pass its final readings within the next month. And
Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman continued to advance his proposal
to remove the Labor Party from the coalition unless there was substantial
progress soon in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
the threats currently poses a serious threat to the stability of Netanyahu’s
coalition. But they are helping create an assumption that the next election,
which is currently set for October 22, 2013, will take place a lot sooner than
IN TRUTH, both Lieberman and Yishai have said recently that they
want the government to serve out its term. Each has personal reasons for that
aspiration that have nothing to do with the good of the
Lieberman could be facing an imminent indictment on corruption
charges, which has reportedly been delayed by the prosecutors’ strike. He has
said that he would quit his cabinet post and the chairmanship of Israel Beiteinu
As long as his party remains in the coalition, Lieberman is
a force to be reckoned with. But the moment a new election is called in which he
is not allowed to run, his career could be over and his party could quickly
Meanwhile, Yishai is facing a serious threat to his
leadership in Shas from both his No. 2 in the party, Construction and Housing
Minister Ariel Attias, and former Shas leader Arye Deri. Yishai needs this
government to last as long as possible so he can rehabilitate his image, which
has been damaged by fights over conversions, the plight of foreign workers’
children, the Carmel Forest fire, the length of daylight saving time, and
preventing the expansion of Barzilai Hospital due to the presence of ancient
graves on the site.
Braverman’s threat should also not be taken too
seriously, because it comes at a time when the diplomatic process is being
reassessed. The Obama administration has abandoned the failed strategy centered
on a settlement freeze and is trying to demarcate the gaps between the two sides
via indirect contacts.
Moreover, Braverman is demanding two things that
even the Americans are not: another moratorium and that any progress in the
talks be revealed to the public and not be kept secret. and one thing that
Netanyahu wants anyway: that the talks be direct.
truly wants the diplomatic process to move forward, but those demands do not
hold the key.
Indeed, he surely has every interest in supporting the
efforts of his party chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to come up with
creative ideas to get the process moving again.
Braverman’s proposal is
expected to be brought to a vote at the Labor Party’s convention next month. At
the same convention, there will also be a vote on Welfare and Social Services
Minister Isaac Herzog’s proposal to advance the Labor leadership race from
October 2012 to June 2011.
Labor, of course, is free to decide to
reexamine its leadership any time it so chooses. But the Braverman, Lieberman
and Yishai threats have potentially wider repercussions, and a more responsible
approach would see a deeper assessment of Israel’s overall interests before such
threats were issued.
AS ISRAEL faces acute security challenges,
diplomatic difficulties, a crisis in education, poverty woes and other major
difficulties, it has precious little to gain from a plunge into premature
general elections. What it needs – what the electorate essentially voted for in
early 2009 – is a stable unity government, able to formulate and follow
positions that reflect and embrace the Israeli consensus.
Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Shaul Mofaz also had it right when he
said such a unity government should make a priority of reforming the unworkable
It was Israel’s loss that Netanyahu and Kadima leader
Tzipi Livni could not agree on terms for such a unity partnership almost two
years ago. But that does not justify the largely self-interested, impatient
threats from some quarters to plunge the country into new elections now.