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 that preceded the expansion of the government sickened even those reconciled to the reality that, since the Menahem Begin era, there exists a total lack of ethics in the Israeli political arena.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in consolidating his government and may have ensured that 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) parliamentary 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 that he genuinely desired to incorporate the Zionist Union or the bulk of its parliamentarians into his government. But ultimately he realized – as Zionist Union leader 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 an opposition headed by the Joint Arab List, 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-Israeli Security Council resolutions.
On the domestic level, Netanyahu’s cavalier treatment of his former political allies to further his own ends by increasing the size 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 associated with Amir Peretz.
In contrast, Ya’alon was an exemplary defense minister. He was considered a man of exceptional integrity, one of the few renowned for promoting the national interest rather than his personal ambitions. His absence from the next Security Cabinet is a great loss for our national security.
Over the past month, 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.
However, Ya’alon’s controversial remarks had no bearing on Netanyahu’s subsequent acquiescence to Liberman’s demand for the Defense Ministry. What is clear is that Ya’alon – one of Netanyahu’s loyal allies over many years – was not treated as a loyal partner or adequately consulted. 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 return to politics at a later date 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 genuinely sought to bring Zionism back into the Labor Party and marginalize the delusional leftists who have hijacked his party. To this end, he fought his own party colleagues but failed in his effort 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 in this new government, aside from Liberman, will be Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who will benefit immensely at the polls and is likely to represent an alternative leadership at the next elections.
The haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are also delighted, because Liberman, in his thirst for power, had no problem in suspending his passionate commitment to introduce reforms in the religious arena and break the stranglehold of the haredim in relation to conversion, marriage and the draft.
Many Israelis are angry with their prime minister, but had he not acted as he did his government would be on the verge of collapse. What is inexcusable is his humiliation of Ya’alon, who was not even adequately informed of the move, to the point where he refused to even remain in the current government – a great loss for the nation.
There are several questions being asked. What price will Netanyahu pay for consolidating his leadership? Internationally, he may face the toughest diplomatic pressures Israel has ever encountered with a retiring US president reputed to be seeking to isolate Israel as his farewell legacy.
How will he cooperate with Liberman, who until only a few days ago displayed outright personal animus toward him? It was serious enough when Liberman went on his independent rampages as foreign minister. How will this work while 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 that with the right advisers, he can 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 was the media’s darling. This same Liberman who is supposedly moving the government further to the Right, prior to the most recent elections was being praised as a pragmatist who would link up with the Left to depose Netanyahu.
Despite our anger and frustration over this latest example of our dysfunctional political system, there has been no fundamental change to government policies. We must rally behind the government’s security policies and show the world that despite the behavior of our politicians, there is a solid consensus throughout the nation favoring separation from the Palestinians – provided we can retain defensible borders and find a genuine Palestinian peace partner. This is not only the policy of the government but of all the Zionist political parties.
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