Reality Check: Afraid of the future

We now have an easy score card on which to mark Netanyahu over the next 12 months or so.

Netanyahu waves 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu waves 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As someone who devoutly wishes to see the end of Binyamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister, I was nevertheless delighted with last week’s turn of events which have all but guaranteed his remaining in power until the end of 2013 when this government’s official term of office expires.
Had the country gone to the polls in September, it was more or less a certainty that Netanyahu would have been returned to the Prime Minister’s Office; now there is at least a chance that his extra year in office will reveal to all why there has never been a worse prime minister, save for Yitzhak Shamir, residing in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.
Back in Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, which ended with him being rightly dumped by the voters, he told an election rally that his opponents were “afraid.” This time around, the despicable political shenanigans of last week show that Netanyahu, and his new sidekick Shaul Mofaz, are the ones running scared.
Unlike Kadima leader Mofaz, Netanyahu is not afraid of the electorate. The Likud is doing well in the opinion polls and there is no one on the immediate horizon who can challenge him as a potential premier.
What frightens the prime minister are the members of his own party, who heckled him last Sunday night at a meeting of the Likud’s convention, and prevented him from summarily assuming the role of Likud convention chairman.
The religious, right-wing extremists who shouted him down are not representative of Likud voters, but they have successfully infiltrated the Likud and wield disproportionate strength inside the party. Netanyahu did not want to go to elections with these people influencing the composition of the Likud’s next Knesset slate.
Last time around, through internal political maneuverings, he managed to ensure that Moshe Feiglin, the religious right’s leader inside the Likud, was shunted into an unrealistic slot. This time, unless Netanyahu can regain control of the party’s machinery, there is a very good chance that Feiglin and his ilk will feature prominently on the Likud list, at the expense of moderates Netanyahu feels he needs, such as Dan Meridor.
Mofaz, on the other hand, is terrified of the voters. Since beating Tzipi Livni for the Kadima leadership, there has been no bounce-back in the polls for the party, with last time’s Kadima voters being tempted by Yair Lapid’s new party, a rejuvenated Labor Party under Shelly Yacimovich’s new leadership or, for those who came to Kadima via the Likud, a return to the Likud. Were the elections to have taken place in September, it’s fair to assume they would have been the last time Kadima ever asked for the voters’ trust.
NOW THE two men have given themselves time, Netanyahu to wrest back control of the Likud and Mofaz to revitalize Kadima. But by entering a government Mofaz swore he would never join, headed by a man he publicly called a liar, the Kadima leader has shown to one and all he is a man whose word is not his word and for whom expediency will always outweigh principle. Even the most cynical of Israeli voters is going to be hard pushed to vote for a party headed by such a person. Mofaz has gained a year at the cabinet table, but has lost any opportunity of presenting Kadima as a viable opposition to the Likud.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, is also in a dangerous position. For the first time since taking office three years ago, the prime minister can no longer avoid doing what he hates most: making a decision. Until now, Netanyahu has always explained that he can’t do this, that or the other because of the implications it would have on his coalition. Now, with a coalition of 94 Knesset members, Netanyahu can do whatever he pleases because no one coalition partner can pull the plug on the government.
The coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Mofaz promises four measures: a replacement for the Tal Law to end the system of IDF draft exemptions for haredim (ultra-Orthodox); changing the electoral system so as to encourage more stable government; renewing negotiations with the Palestinians, and passing an emergency budget for 2013 to ward off an economic crisis due to an uncontrolled budgetary deficit.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has already been on the phone to Netanyahu to find out what he intends to do about the peace process now that Kadima is in the government, and the clock is ticking on the Tal Law, which expires on July 1. Yisrael Beytenu can no longer threaten the coalition over peace moves; the haredi parties no longer have the whip hand over yeshiva students’ exemption from IDF duty or the need to change the country’s political system.
We now have an easy score card on which to mark Netanyahu over the next 12 months or so. With such a strong coalition, an F on any one of the goals he and Mofaz set for themselves should make clear, once and for all, that Netanyahu is a do-nothing prime minister, unworthy of occupying the country’s highest office.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.