Ingenious political coup or insidious political scheme?

Netanyahu could use increase clout to reach peace agreement, bridge social gap.

Mofaz and Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mofaz and Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s move to expand his coalition to include Kadima and its 28 Knesset members provides him with a majority of 94 out of 120 parliamentarians and represents nothing short of an ingenious political coup or an insidious political scheme, depending on what he does with the historic mandate.
Reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians and bridging the social gap must be first and foremost on his national agenda. Should he succeed, Netanyahu will be hailed as the leader who delivered his people from the bondage of occupation to the home of true liberty, independence and peace. Should he squander this momentous opportunity, however, he will be remembered as the most devious prime minister in Israel’s history, one whose blind personal ambitions and distorted vision brought his people to the brink of utter disaster.   
In his speech following the agreement with Shaul Mofaz, the leader of Kadima, Netanyahu stipulated four central issues on which his newly expanded government will focus: “To pass a fair and equal replacement of the Tal Law; to pass a responsible budget; to change the system of governance; and, lastly, to try and promote a responsible peace process." It is important to note that although all four are important issues and have serious national implications, the two most pressing concerns are the peace process and the alarmingly expanding social gap between the rich and the poor.
The heads of the opposition, especially Yair Lapid, the leader of the newly established party, Yesh Atid, and Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor party, reacted to the news with pointed disgust and disbelief, and for good reason, given Netanyahu’s past mischievous political maneuverings. Yachimovich slammed the maneuver as, "an alliance of cowards, and the most ridiculous zigzag in Israel's political history, which no one will ever forget.” Lapid condemned the move as a “disgusting political alliance” and later challenged Netanyahu, saying, “You made this move so to avoid elections, so that you can do the only thing you've avoiding since being named prime minister, you can decide your own identity.”
Their remarks sadly reflect Israel’s political malaise that continues to politically polarize the country and led to paralysis in dealing with Israel’s pressing issues in the past.
Instead of thinking about how Netanyahu’s move may adversely affect their personal ambitions, they should challenge the prime minister to demonstrate his commitment to the agenda he spelled out and even offer support to him should he proceed solemnly on these fronts. With this unprecedented mandate Netanyahu is no longer beholden to the smaller parties including Israel Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, or Shas led Eli Yishai (the former objected to major territorial concession and the latter refused to negotiate the future of Jerusalem).
The opposition, led by Labor, can expose Netanyahu’s true intentions, as he now has the majority he needs to negotiate in earnest with the Palestinians and tackle the alarming social problems. He should be put on notice that while Iran’s nuclear program must be addressed with the deliberation it deserves, he will not be permitted to use it to stir up emotions and instill public fear to promote his personal agenda.
The more immediate and looming threats Israel faces are the Palestinian conflict, which can explode at any time, and Israel’s social gap, which is consuming the very fabric of the Israeli society. The opposition’s main task is now to mobilize public opinion behind these two most urgent causes and to prevent Netanyahu from distracting the peoples’ attention from the real and ominous challenges facing the country in order to consolidate his power base in preparation for the next elections.
To demonstrate his belief in a two-state solution, which remains the only viable option that will safeguard Israel’s future as a Jewish state, Netanyahu must put to rest the erroneous claim that conceding land to the Palestinians would compromise Israel’s national security. He must come up with a realistic plan to achieve mutually-agreeable land swaps for the purposes of keeping the three major blocks of settlements along the 1967 borders, which house more than two third of the settlers in Israel proper.
Last summer’s protests, which have been renewed in light of the new coalition, focused on the social gap, which is supposed to be addressed in the budget. The coalition deal committed to responding to the protestors’ demands including: promoting equitable distribution of the state's resources, creating an economic and social safety net for the poorer and middle class, increasing competition and reducing economic concentration, enforcing labor laws and bridging social welfare disparities.
The new expanded coalition has nearly 18 months to make significant progress on these two pressing national issues. To show his sincerity, Netanyahu can immediately begin the process and demonstrate each day his commitment to real and irreversible progress. The opposition must continuously hold him and his coalition partners accountable and rally the public to put increasing pressure on the government to deliver on the promises it has made.
Akin to last year’s demonstrations, the opposition (along with all other smaller parties and organizations who believe in social equality and peace with security) should call upon their followers to enter the streets by the hundreds of thousands and peacefully demonstrate to make their demands loud and clear: the government must pursue peace vigorously, as time is not in Israel’s favor, and tackle the country's social ills, whose corrosive effects are far greater than the Iranian threat. Only the relentlessness tenacity of the public will force Netanyahu to show his true colors. Otherwise, it is pointless for the opposition to continue to criticize Netanyahu and treat him with scorn only because he has outsmarted them all.
The opposition’s ability to mobilize the public to go out on to the streets and engage in massive demonstrations remains the only real test that can shake up the system and prove their credibility. Netanyahu can use the widespread protests for political cover to change course, especially with regards to the Palestinians. But if the opposition continues to simply engage in recriminations and empty rhetoric and the public remains passive, Netanyahu will easily sail through such disarrayed opposition and public complacency to yet another victory in the fall of 2013. The public must deny him a third term should he fail to deliver on his promises.
By expanding the coalition, Netanyahu has provided himself an ideal political environment to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and bridge the social gap domestically. How Netanyahu handles these issues will reveal whether he is an insidious, scheming opportunist who confused love for country with self-indulgence and shortsightedness, or a brilliant political strategist who did not squander a historic opportunity to answer his people’s yearning for social justice and peace.