Politics in 2009: Out with a bang

Politics in 2009 Out wi

mofaz and sad livni 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
mofaz and sad livni 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The year 2009 began with a scenario no one had previously thought possible. In the midst of an election campaign, just six weeks before the big day, the 30 parties running completely stopped their political activity in a show of national unity during Operation Cast Lead. The year ended in exactly the opposite fashion. Unlike the show of unity in January when the political scene could not have been more divided, the politicians put on a show of disunity in December at a time of extraordinary political cohesion. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeded in expressing that consensus in his speeches at Bar-Ilan University on June 14 and at the United Nations on September 24. External pressure from the US, Europe and Iran helped unite Israelis behind their leadership, as did the formation of a national-unity government. Netanyahu enjoys a stable, 74-MK coalition composed of parties from moderate right to moderate left, and the differences between the two extremes on diplomatic issues are negligible. The opposition is divided among the centrist Kadima and the extreme right and left that have nothing in common. So why did Netanyahu take the risk of harming that stability and his image with an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at a political big bang to break up Kadima? The people who know Netanyahu best offered three different reasons: His deep disdain for opposition leader Tzipi Livni and desire for revenge against Kadima, which almost ended his political career, paranoia over nonexistent threats to his leadership, and the fact that he genuinely wants as large a coalition possible due to the challenges that lie ahead from the Palestinians, Hizbullah and Iran. NETANYAHU'S EFFORTS to split Kadima were revealed last Thursday by Channel 10 reporter Nadav Perry in a report that was barely noticed because the news was broadcast early due to a soccer game. But Kadima MKs had been murmuring about problems beneath the surface in their party for months. A Kadima MK who has good relations with Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post three months ago that there were "seven MKs considering jumping ship to Likud, and they don't include [Livni's rival] Shaul Mofaz or me." At the time, the MK's tip could not be substantiated, but the Likud could not keep such negotiations under wraps forever. Kadima officials said the story broke because Netanyahu, his political adviser Shalom Shlomo, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz handled their talks with Kadima MKs clumsily. The MKs negotiating with the Likud spoke to one another and realized that Netanyahu was trying to sell the same goods to different MKs. Three Kadima MKs were offered the Negev and Galilee Development portfolio currently occupied by Netanyahu's rival Silvan Shalom, multiple MKs were promised the vacant Pensioners Affairs portfolio, and three MKs from the former Soviet Union were told they would head the Likud's Russian campaign and be given a slot on the Likud list reserved for an immigrant in the next election. Likud officials said the leak happened because they went overboard and expanded their effort to break up Kadima to too many MKs. According to the Likud's version of events, they succeeded in keeping the story silent for three months after Kadima MK Ya'acov Edri first approached Netanyahu about bringing at least six MKs with him from Kadima in a meeting at the prime minister's weekend home in Caesarea, near Edri's in Or Akiva. They said Edri promised to bring big names like Meir Sheetrit, but ended up supplying six backbenchers, one less than the minimum required by a law passed in August, and that Edri himself backed off last weekend, preventing the split. "Edri was the man who started it, brought in others and then ran away," a Likud source said. "I have been shocked at how many MKs have lied to the press. They are bored in the opposition, and for portfolios, they would sell their mother." The Likud sources said they spoke to 17 Kadima MKs, 12 of whom expressed interest in jumping ship and six of whom signed a letter to Knesset House Committee chairman Yariv Levin formally requesting the split. "Seven fish bit, but one got away at the last-minute," Katz told Likud central committee members at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Tuesday. Kadima's version of the events is very different. Edri admitted to meeting with Netanyahu, but said he did so "because the prime minister invited me, and you don't say no to neighbors." He said he reported Netanyahu's offer back to Livni. Livni's associates denied reports that she was taken by surprise by the negotiations her MKs were conducting with the Likud and that she only heard about them recently from the media. "We had very good intelligence," a Livni associate said. "We knew what was going on for more than a month, and we were even told well in advance that Mofaz would try to use the crisis to try to force an early leadership race in Kadima. We already started speaking then to the MKs we had a better chance of keeping to make sure the Likud wouldn't get seven. I don't think they ever had more than five." LOOKING BACK on a week of political turmoil, spin doctors from Likud and Kadima, as usual, both claimed victory. Kadima's spin doctors said their win was proven in Monday's Kadima faction meeting when the faction unanimously rejected Netanyahu's offer to join the coalition. They said they defeated not only Netanyahu but also Labor chairman Ehud Barak and Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, who were in on the maneuver. "Netanyahu and Katz lost their credibility while we kept ours, because in the end they didn't get seven," a Livni associate said. "Maybe for the first time ever, three parties collaborated against one party in a maneuver planned for almost a year, and Tzipi stood up against all of them and proved her power." "It was Bibi, Barak and Lieberman against Tzipi, and she won," the associate added. Livni's associates admitted there were still problems in the party that had to be dealt with, but they said the bad press the MKs who tried to jump ship received would act as a deterrent to keep them in Kadima, and that Netanyahu's talks with Kadima MKs about politics while kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit's fate was being decided would leave a lasting negative impression. The Likud's spin doctors noted that Netanyahu was received warmly by the hawkish Likud central committee despite the West Bank settlement construction moratorium, while Livni must now face a fight for her political survival against Mofaz. They said attempts to break up Kadima would continue, and that a split was only a matter of time, due to the wrath against Livni in the party that surfaced over the past week. "Livni is left with a broken party, despite the fake presentation of unity in the Kadima faction," a Likud source said. "Livni will regret turning down our offer to join the government. The coalition partners who were in on [the maneuver] are glad that Netanyahu did not cave in to Livni's demands on the diplomatic issue, and even though we didn't split Kadima yet, it was worth it just to see the blows to Livni's crystal clean reputation." The Likud source summed up the story by comparing it to a historical event whose 20-year anniversary was marked in 2009. "It's like the Berlin wall," he said. "The crack is there. The next blow will knock it down."