Early Elections

Early elections could, and should, have been avoided.

Scots vote in independence referendum (photo credit: REUTERS)
Scots vote in independence referendum
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the head of Hatnua. The move will probably trigger early elections.
It was not an ideological argument that precipitated the apparent expiration of the current coalition. The “Jewish state” controversy could have easily been resolved by simply endorsing the principles found in the Declaration of Independence as a Basic Law. Lapid’s criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for endangering ties with the US were less about substance than style and were mild compared to the sorts of quips leveled against Netanyahu by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, the head of Israel Beytenu, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of Bayit Yehudi, during Operation Protective Edge.
It was not about the economy either. Lapid’s housing reforms could have been passed with or without changes and compromises for the sake of preserving the coalition.
Besides, Netanyahu had already voted in favor of most of them in initial readings.
No, this government came to an end as the result of personal enmities. The fiercest of these exists between Lapid and Netanyahu. Lapid got off to a bad start, arousing Netanyahu’s fear of being dethroned when he declared that he saw himself as a candidate to become the next prime minister.
Relations between the two have deteriorated in recent weeks to the point where, except for cabinet meetings, they barely communicate.
But if reports of the fateful meeting Monday night between Netanyahu and Lapid are to be believed, the crisis Netanyahu created to force Lapid out was the ultimatum he presented the Yesh Atid leader regarding scrapping his flagship housing reform plan and supporting the “Jewish state” bill – deal breakers that for Lapid proved to be the straws that broke the camel’s back. Netanyahu apparently will do anything he can to rid himself of Lapid and his party, including spending millions of taxpayer shekels to finance unnecessary new elections.
What kind of configuration could possibly result from new elections that would be different – never mind better – than the current coalition? There’s not much of a pool of talent to choose from.
With polls showing the likelihood that voters will turn more to the right and weaken parties like Labor – and especially Yesh Atid and Hatnua – Moshe Kahlon’s fledgling, as yet unnamed party potentially provides Netanyahu with a natural coalition partner to replace Yesh Atid, assuming current polls giving Kahlon’s party about 12 seats are right.
Kahlon is particularly attractive for Netanyahu as a coalition partner, not only because he is a self-described Likudnik at heart, but because he intends to focus on bringing down the cost of living; a worthy cause that, if attained, would not incur the wrath of the international community, as settlement building does.
Still, these elections are not only unnecessary, their timing – before the passage of the 2015 budget by the end of December – is unfortunate. Perhaps a new, stronger coalition will be formed. And perhaps Lapid’s hapless 0 percent VAT plan, that was bashed by several top economists and would have cost NIS 3 billion this coming year, will be trashed.
Nor are these elections expected to change the political landscape significantly. Netanyahu might be able to put together a right-wing coalition led by his Likud Party, with Kahlon’s party, Israel Beytenu, and Bayit Yehudi, minus the haredi parties.
If Netanyahu decides he wants the haredim in a new coalition, however, we might see a backtrack on IDF draft legislation and higher welfare transfers, particularly in the form of child allowances. As Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman wrote in The Jerusalem Post on Monday, the haredi parties have told Netanyahu they would join a coalition after the elections with conditions resulting in redesigning the draft law to their liking, restoring all yeshiva and kollel budgets, and abolishing the new conversion policy.
Lipman correctly noted that there is a lot of progress the current coalition has made that would be undone, solely due to politics.
Early elections could, and should, have been avoided. It is frustrating to realize that the only reason they are taking place has nothing to do with principles, ideology, or the economy, but rather unadulterated “old politics” and personal enmities. We, the citizens of Israel, deserve better.