Candidly Speaking: Netanyahu’s morally and politically dysfunctional government

Netanyahu saved his government by this "volte farce," but it may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory.

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu
The recent shenanigans of the government sickened even those reconciled to the reality that a total lack of ethics pervades the Israeli political arena.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in consolidating his government and may have ensured it will survive its full term of office – making him the longest presiding Prime Minister of Israel. In this case, Netanyahu was not being Machiavellian. Like any politician, understandably his principal objective was to increase his (paper-thin) majority. But there is little doubt that his objective was also to create a government that reflected the unity of the nation in terms of security issues and which our adversaries and allies alike could not dismiss as extreme right wing.
I believe he genuinely desired to incorporate the Zionist Union or the bulk of its parliamentarians into his government. But ultimately he realized – as Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog himself subsequently conceded – that he was unable to gain the support of the Labor Party. Even if Herzog delivered a number of Labor MKs, the coalition would be highly unstable and likely to break up at any time.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, realizing that his political future was at risk if he remained in opposition, signaled his political arch-enemy that he was willing to join the government and in less than 24 hours, the deal was cobbled together.
Netanyahu saved his government by this ‘volte farce.’ But it may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory.
As the global community prepares to exert more pressure – including UN Security Council Resolutions designed to coerce us into accepting indefensible borders – we will be perceived as having an even more extreme right-wing government. This will undoubtedly be exploited by US President Barack Obama as justification for not employing the US veto to anti-Israel Security Council resolutions.
On the domestic level, Netanyahu’s cavalier treatment of his former political allies to further his own ends by increasing the strength of the coalition – at any cost – leaves a very bitter taste.
The manner in which Moshe Ya’alon was displaced as defense minister by Liberman was almost surreal.
When Liberman served as foreign minister he abused his position and misrepresented Israel. To appoint him defense minister, possessing no military experience whatsoever, is grossly unsuitable and reminiscent of the disasters of the Amir Peretz era.
In contrast, Ya’alon was an exemplary defense minister, and is considered a man of exceptional integrity, one of the few renowned for promoting the national interest rather than personal ambitions. His absence from the Security Cabinet is a great loss for our national security.
Recently, Ya’alon was justly criticized for making a number of ill-considered statements, creating tension when encouraging IDF personnel to speak out against political decisions they considered inappropriate. But this had no bearing on Netanyahu’s subsequent behavior.
Ya’alon – one of Netanyahu’s loyal allies over many years – was thoroughly humiliated and the result was that he exploded and, despite the belated offer of the post of foreign minister, resigned from the government and Knesset, announcing he would later return to politics and become a contestant for the leadership.
How has this impacted on domestic politics? The country’s biggest loss is Ya’alon, whose wisdom and military knowledge are irreplaceable. The other loser is Herzog, who sought to bring Zionism back into the Labor Party and marginalize the leftists who have hijacked it. To this end, he fought his party colleagues but failed to create a national unity government. His party will now be in shambles until it sorts itself out and elects a new leader.
The big winner, aside from Liberman, will be Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who will benefit immensely and is likely to represent an alternative leadership at the next elections.
The haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are delighted because Liberman, in his thirst for power, suspended his passionate commitment to introduce reforms to break the stranglehold of the haredim in relation to conversion, marriage and the draft.
Many Israelis are angry with Netanyahu, but had he not acted his government would be on the verge of collapse.
What is inexcusable is his humiliation of Ya’alon, to the point where he refused to even remain in the current government.
There are several questions being asked. What price will Netanyahu pay for consolidating his leadership? Internationally, he may face even tougher diplomatic pressures with a retiring US president reputed to be seeking to isolate Israel as his farewell legacy.
How will he cooperate with Liberman, who until very recently displayed outright personal animus toward him? It was damaging when Liberman went on his independent rampages as foreign minister. How will this work when he is defense minister? Yet Liberman is no fool. Despite portraying himself as a vulgar, tough hawk, he has in the past displayed pragmatism, frequently and unexpectedly reversing his position. Perhaps he will surprise us, cooperate with the prime minister and prove to be a competent defense minister. But we should not hold our breath.
At the same time, we should treat the media hysteria with a grain of salt. Until a week ago Liberman was Netanyahu’s staunchest critic – and he was the media’s darling.
Despite our exasperation over this latest behavior of our politicians, there has been no fundamental change to the government’s policies. There remains a solid consensus favoring separation from the Palestinians – provided we retain defensible borders and find a genuine Palestinian peace partner.
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