Politics: A marriage made in heaven – or hell?

Look at key challenges PM, Shaul Mofaz must overcome for new bond between Likud, Kadima to last.

Netanyahu, Mofaz announce deal (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu, Mofaz announce deal
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
For some reason, many of the keys to a successful marriage start with the letter C: Communication, compromise, consideration, compliments, conflict resolution, and choosing reasonable expectations.
That holds true for husband and wife – and also for political partners.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who sparred nastily until recently, looked at each other in a surprisingly loving way at Tuesday’s press conference in which they formally announced the new coalition deal between Likud and Kadima.
As with couples who elope, it will take time for Netanyahu and Mofaz’s families in Likud and Kadima to adjust to their new relationship, which their party leaders imposed on them by surprise. Each leader passed the deal in his respective party with little opposition, but MKs on both sides are very skeptical of this new political marriage’s chances of success.
Technically, the coalition agreement states that Kadima will remain in the government until the end of its term, which is set for October 22, 2012. But it includes out clauses if key goals are not reached.
As in any marriage, there are challenges that have to be overcome and pitfalls that must be avoided. The following are four key issues and dates in 2012 in which the coalition deal between Likud and Kadima will be tested and its success determined: SOCIOECONOMIC: JUNE 23 Last summer’s protests began when college students were out of school and ended when the fall semester began. New protests are already beginning now but they will likely intensify on Saturday night June 23, the weekend after the last day of university exams.
During Mofaz’s 43 days as opposition leader, he vowed to lead socioeconomic protests that he was confident would return this summer. Now instead of leading them, he will probably be their most vilified target, which will put him under enormous pressure.
The coalition deal states that the two parties will work together on a 2013 state budget that will better allocate resources. That will be hard to do after the international economic crisis resulted in Israel making less money from exports. The ministers will have less money to play with than they have had since the government was formed more than three years ago.
The budget will have to pass its first hurdle in the cabinet already this summer. It will then be brought to the Knesset for its first reading in October and its last readings by the end of the year. Moody’s Investors Service’s decision this week to lower the credit rating of Israeli banks does not bode well.
RELIGION AND STATE: AUGUST 1 In February, the High Court ruled unconstitutional the Tal Law that mandated deferrals of IDF service for yeshiva students for whom Torah is their profession.
The Court gave the government until August 1 to find an alternative solution.
Kadima adopted that deadline and wrote in the coalition deal that if an alternative to the Tal Law is not passed by then, the party can leave the coalition.
Kadima MKs have warned Mofaz that if he does not keep that promise, there will be a massive rebellion in the party Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, who is the architect of the deal with Kadima, expressed confidence that he could find a way to reach a compromise. This will be no easy task, considering that the coalition includes 16 Shas and United Torah Judaism MKs who will compete against 43 MKs from Kadima and Yisrael Beytenu, whose reputations depend on finding a way to equalize the burden of army service.
Elkin said the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties may end up voting against the new formula but he believes they will stay in the coalition. That is important for Netanyahu, who does not want to upset the haredim, since he wants to see them in his next government.
Mofaz’s associates said that unlike his predecessor Tzipi Livni, he did not make kicking out religious parties a precondition for joining the coalition. Mofaz has a good relationship with Shas chairman Eli Yishai and UTJ’s Moshe Gafni, which will help him reach a deal with them.
DIPLOMATIC: NOVEMBER 7 For some 20 years now, analysts examining Netanyahu’s behavior have predicted that he will eventually take a leftward leap. The prognosticators predicted that this would take place following the passing of two right-wing ideologues who had a strong influence on Netanyahu and were already elderly two decades ago.
Netanyahu's father-in-law, Shmuel Ben Artzi, died on November 9 at the age of 97. The prime minister’s 102-year-old father, Benzion Netanyahu, died April 30.
Even before he finished sitting shiva, Netanyahu began steps to form a national-unity government with Mofaz, negotiating a deal committing the government to take responsible steps to advance the peace process.
Whether diplomatic progress will be made will depend a lot more on the elections in the United States and the as yet unscheduled elections in the Palestinian Authority than it does on the election in Israel that did not end up getting initiated.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has dramatically decreased its pressure on Israel regarding the Palestinian issue over the past several months. Whether the reason is learning from past mistakes, the Palestinians’ refusing American demands to come to the negotiating table, or the election campaign in the US remains to be seen.
Key Netanyahu advisers are convinced that the latter answer is correct and that American pressure on Israel will resume shortly after the November 6 US election, which they believe Obama will win. Mofaz has expressed admiration for Obama and could help push Netanyahu from inside as Defense Minister Ehud Barak has done.
Elkin said right-wingers should be satisfied because although the current coalition with Kadima is not as right-wing as it was before, it is better than the next coalition Netanyahu would have formed.
POLITICAL: DECEMBER 31 The coalition agreement states that changes in the electoral system must be made by the end of the year or Kadima can leave. Mofaz’s key contributors in Los Angeles, the Nazarian family, also fund the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel, a pressure group that lobbies for changing the system.
The issue has increased in importance since it started being championed by two high-profile Netanyahu critics: former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and new Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid. Dagan’s Yesh Sikui lobby is advised by Mofaz’s strategist, Lior Chorev.
Mofaz has been advised to focus on consensus issues that are easy to pass, such as strengthening the executive and legislative branches and changing the way ministers are appointed. He has been warned against grandiose changes like initiating direct regional elections for half the Knesset. Though Mofaz came out in favor of regional elections during his campaign for Kadima leadership, his heart does not appear to be there enough to push for it.
Shas and Yisrael Beytenu fiercely oppose such a change, as does Independence faction head Einat Wilf.
Mofaz will seek a happy medium that will allow himself to be credited with stabilizing Israel’s political system while keeping the coalition intact.
Having a wide coalition of 94 MKs will allow Netanyahu to build de facto mini-coalitions on key issues to pass whatever he wants, relying mostly on the government’s three centrist parties – Likud, Kadima, and the Independence Party, who together have 61 MKs, a majority in the Knesset.
There is one more key date for Netanyahu that no one is talking about yet. On November 9, he will pass the 2,432 days in office served by Yitzhak Shamir to become Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister after David Ben-Gurion.
Ben-Gurion was prime minister for more than 13 years, about twice as long as Netanyahu. For Netanyahu to get anywhere close to Ben-Gurion’s accomplishment, he will have to overcome many more challenges ahead – and have a few more successful political marriages.