Postscript: Et tu, Brute?

Prepare for it. The writing is on the wall. The leaders of the national unity government came together for tactical reasons.

Standardized test 58 (photo credit: Thinkstock)
Standardized test 58
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
Prepare for it. The writing is on the wall. The leaders of the recently formed national unity government came together for short-term, tactical reasons. Kadima needed to postpone the election set for early September or face electoral disaster; Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to broaden his coalition and blunt the power of his growingly restive opponents both within the coalition and his party, while Ehud Barak, the matchmaker in all this, survives yet another immediate threat to his political career.
We all understand the short-term needs that brought them all together into the mammoth coalition government Israel now has, but what of the slightly longer term? Do we really see Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, who came to Kadima from the Likud, and has now returned to the Likud with Kadima, living together in unity and harmony? Somehow, I don’t think so.
Whether true or not, Netanyahu has to be suspicious of Mofaz using his time in the government to plot a takeover of the Likud, and then become prime minister as Mofaz has said he intends to do. This would not be a totally paranoid assumption given the path of Mofaz’s political career until now, which may have zigged and zagged and showed little ideological depth or commitment, but which has always moved forward and continued to do so. Few thought he had a chance against Matan Vilna’i to be named chief of staff, yet he was. His chances of becoming defense minister when he was hardly out of uniform were thought be zero, yet he did.
He then took over Kadima, as he said he would, and has now reiterated several times that he intends to be prime minister, including during visits to the Western Wall and Theodor Herzl’s grave after winning the leadership of Kadima, and for that he needs the Likud, so Netanyahu watch out.
What does this mean for national unity, one asks. The harbinger, perhaps, could be seen in the three rounds of balloting it took for the Knesset to approve the government’s choice for the next state comptroller.
Despite the massive, almost unprecedented, numbers at his disposal, the prime minister was powerless to get his way; coalition discipline has seldom been weaker; instead of unity, democratic anarchy seemed to be at play.
The national unity government’s first joint venture ended in a shambles. The comptroller was eventually elected, but the process was disheartening when considering the 18 or so months to come before the next national election is scheduled.
Personally, I am relieved there is no election this September.
Who wants to come back from vacation and start the year with jingles and rants from the politicians as we try and get the kids ready for the new school year, not to mention the waste of money and the end result which would have been more of the same. But ask me whether I think this national unity government is a good idea, especially with the characters involved, and I would answer with an unequivocal “no.”
This is not going to be a good experience. It is not natural for the largest party in the Knesset to a member of a governing coalition with the largest cabinet in Israel’s history, and yet have no power, no portfolios, and no instruments of furthering its lawmakers’ political careers. Their presence is also a de facto threat to the other coalition partners who now hold these seats of power and influence, and whose political futures depend on retaining them. They, too, better than the rest of us, understand the latent threat of Kadima’s power waiting for a seat at the cabinet table. This type of scenario does not make for national unity. The opposite is true.
Thus from the pinnacle down, with Netanyahu having to look over his shoulder and the current cabinet ministers in fear of their futures, the national challenges facing Israel, the stated reason why Mofaz led his flock back into the fold, will be set aside as party politics begins to possess all. We have yet to see what pans out when the Knesset is faced with real issues, like redrafting the “Tal Law,” but I would not hold out too much hope. The state comptroller fiasco was but the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can expect.
National unity, I can assure you, will be at the bottom of the list.
On the morning of the announcement of Kadima’s move into the coalition, many woke up with the thought that this was a sure sign Israel was preparing to attack Iran. At least five people phoned me on the issue, commentators went to town on it, and some serious reporters even reported this as a fact. I, however, fear our leaders had something else entirely on their minds when they declared their unity government: their respective political futures, not the country’s existential problems.
That, I can guarantee.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the National Jewish Book Award in the History category for 2011.