In both of Israel's established political parties everyone seems angry at everyone else.
It's too early for predictions, but it's like the first news of a major weather change heading in our direction. It may not get here, but if it does, watch out.
It came about on account of the razor thin edge of Bibi's coalition majority, or maybe even less than a majority, insofar as two or three of Likud MKs have not voted as required.
It's not all that clear how the PM proceeded. It appears that he approached both the head of Zionist Union/Labor and Israel Beitenu, i.e., Yitzhak Herzog and Avigdor Lieberman, and offered substantial goodies if they brought their parties into the coalition. We heard that Herzog could be Foreign Minister, and Lieberman, who has accepted a deal, will be Defense Minister.
What transpired produced a great commotion within Zionist Union/Labor, with harsh accusations between Herzog and several opponents. Most fierce was his interchange with Shelli Yehimovich. She accused him of violating party principles by dealing with a right wing extremist, and he accused her of scuttling a deal on account of her extreme leftist aspirations.
Lieberman's acceptance of Bibi's offer will bring five more MKs into the coalition. The plan was to strengthen things with six MKs, but one of Lieberman's MKs bolted the party but will remain in the Knesset. She accuses him of violating party principles with respect to social policy, but it appears that her real reason is that Lieberman did not provide her with a ministerial appointment.
We hear that Defense Minister Yaalon was offered the position of Foreign Minister in order to accommodate Lieberman's demand for Defense, but there is some doubt about that. Yaalon and Netanyahu had been quarreling, and after Bibi's deal with Lieberman, Yaalon went public with a resignation from the Knesset and a verbal broadside against his former leader. He said that Likud of today is far to the right, not the party he joined years ago, and a danger to the country. Bibi's response was that Yaalon could not see the need for an enlargement of the coalition, and was putting personal feelings over national interest.
Lieberman had trumpted strong criticism of Bibi from a more rightward position in recent months, saying that Netanyahu was not a serious fighter for Israeli security against Palestinian terror. He demanded a death penalty for Palestinian terrorists as his price of joining the government, as well as special pensions for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, i.e., the heart of his electoral base.
It's not clear that Lieberman will get anything more than the Defense Ministry and one other appointment for a favored MK.
What is clear that his entry to the Defense Ministry has been rocking several prominent Likudniks.
The usually soft spoken Benny Begin, the son of Likud's iconic former leader, called Lieberman's appointment "בזוי." . The list of English equivalents includes "despicable," "contemptuous," and "depreciating."
It's hard to call Benny Begin a great power in Likud, but he does have a following, along with a number of other former MKs and ministers who, like Yaalon, are seen as keeping the party from falling into the hands of extreme rightists.
Also said to be unhappy are Minister of Domestic Security Gilad Erdan and Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz, both seen at one time as party comers who might aspire to become the party leader. Both may be upset, however, insofar as both are said to have been promised by Netanyahu promotion to Foreign Minister.
Bibi often speaks with the rightists in the party, but on a number of key occasions has acted as a moderate. Now, with a government that features Lieberman as Minister of Defense, with Bennett as Minister of Education, Israel's centrists are worrying about having lost control of the country to individuals who would move it in the direction of both religious and political extremism.
Early worries, and ridicule, are also focusing on the arrival to the Knesset of Yehuda Glick, next in line on Likud's electoral list, and slated to be Yaalon's replacement. Glick is known as a Temple Mount activist, who may aspire to constructing a Third Temple and returning to animal sacrifices. Party wags are chiding Bibi for having gotten rid of Moshe Feiglin, who was a problem but bright and a forceful speaker, and replacing him with a more problematic duo of Oren Hazan and Yehuda Glick.
Among the most extreme speaking against Bibi is Ehud Barak, who used the term fascist several times to express his concern about what is happening. By overlooking what numerous others have described as the moderate pragmatism of both Netanyahu and Lieberman, Barack was sounding like a political hasbeen who has burned bridges both to Labor and Likud, and would like an invitation from one or the other.
We're also hearing that Bibi is maneuvering to be elected President when Reuven Rivlin's term is up, and his own chances as staying as Prime Minister may be dimming. It's not hard to imagine a substantial list of unhappy Likudniks leading an anti-Bibi campaign with the slogan of anybody but Sara as First Lady.
A poll is showing that Likud down to 27 Knesset seats from its present 30, with a near majority opposing Liberman's appointment as Defense Minister. Zionist Union/Labor has tanked to a projection of 11 Knesset seats, compared to its present 24.
The big gainer is Yair Lapid's There is a Future, polling at 24 seats compared to its current 11. One can imagine his supporters hoping for momentum, thinking of recruiting Herzog and Yaalon, and aspiring to lead the next government.
Even if Lapid comes out of an election with the most Knesset seats, he may not be able to form a government. There may not be enough remaining of the Labor Party to give him a majority. Kahlon doesn't seem to be attracting enough to matter. Meretz and the Arabs will be too far to his left, and Lapid's overtly secular posture may keep the religious parties in the opposition. Whoever is leading Likud may be able to cobble together a majority, looking pretty much like what it has now.
Again, there is no certainty. Lieberman will provide enough votes to keep the present coalition afloat, and he has shown signs of being a pragmatist, as well as an ideologue. Bibi is likely to continue to speak as a rightist, but to work against the most cherished dreams of his right wing colleagues. With the Palestinians being our restive neighbors and clamoring world wide for what would threaten Israel, there is no clear sign that the Israeli electorate is moving to the left. Maybe not even to the center dominated by Yair Lapid.
And for those who thrive in uncertainty, the prospects of Donald or Hillary, with Donald now in the lead, must be warming their hearts.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem