Self-serving election threats

As Israel faces acute challenges, it has precious little to gain from a plunge into premature general elections.

Elections (photo credit: DR)
(photo credit: DR)
For perhaps the first time since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government was sworn in on the night of March 31, 2009, there was a genuine atmosphere of pre-election euphoria in the Knesset last week.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai threatened that his party would no longer respect coalition discipline if legislation was advanced that would grant IDF conversions independence from the Chief Rabbinate by bestowing authority on the IDF chief rabbi to be the final signatory on military conversions.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman called a press conference to issue his own threats about what would happen should the bill not pass its final readings within the next month. And Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman continued to advance his proposal to remove the Labor Party from the coalition unless there was substantial progress soon in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
None of the threats currently poses a serious threat to the stability of Netanyahu’s coalition. But they are helping create an assumption that the next election, which is currently set for October 22, 2013, will take place a lot sooner than that.
IN TRUTH, both Lieberman and Yishai have said recently that they want the government to serve out its term. Each has personal reasons for that aspiration that have nothing to do with the good of the country.
Lieberman could be facing an imminent indictment on corruption charges, which has reportedly been delayed by the prosecutors’ strike. He has said that he would quit his cabinet post and the chairmanship of Israel Beiteinu if indicted.
As long as his party remains in the coalition, Lieberman is a force to be reckoned with. But the moment a new election is called in which he is not allowed to run, his career could be over and his party could quickly disintegrate.
Meanwhile, Yishai is facing a serious threat to his leadership in Shas from both his No. 2 in the party, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, and former Shas leader Arye Deri. Yishai needs this government to last as long as possible so he can rehabilitate his image, which has been damaged by fights over conversions, the plight of foreign workers’ children, the Carmel Forest fire, the length of daylight saving time, and preventing the expansion of Barzilai Hospital due to the presence of ancient graves on the site.
Braverman’s threat should also not be taken too seriously, because it comes at a time when the diplomatic process is being reassessed. The Obama administration has abandoned the failed strategy centered on a settlement freeze and is trying to demarcate the gaps between the two sides via indirect contacts.
Moreover, Braverman is demanding two things that even the Americans are not: another moratorium and that any progress in the talks be revealed to the public and not be kept secret. and one thing that Netanyahu wants anyway: that the talks be direct.
Braverman doubtless truly wants the diplomatic process to move forward, but those demands do not hold the key.
Indeed, he surely has every interest in supporting the efforts of his party chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to come up with creative ideas to get the process moving again.
Braverman’s proposal is expected to be brought to a vote at the Labor Party’s convention next month. At the same convention, there will also be a vote on Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog’s proposal to advance the Labor leadership race from October 2012 to June 2011.
Labor, of course, is free to decide to reexamine its leadership any time it so chooses. But the Braverman, Lieberman and Yishai threats have potentially wider repercussions, and a more responsible approach would see a deeper assessment of Israel’s overall interests before such threats were issued.
AS ISRAEL faces acute security challenges, diplomatic difficulties, a crisis in education, poverty woes and other major difficulties, it has precious little to gain from a plunge into premature general elections. What it needs – what the electorate essentially voted for in early 2009 – is a stable unity government, able to formulate and follow positions that reflect and embrace the Israeli consensus.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Shaul Mofaz also had it right when he said such a unity government should make a priority of reforming the unworkable electoral system.
It was Israel’s loss that Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not agree on terms for such a unity partnership almost two years ago. But that does not justify the largely self-interested, impatient threats from some quarters to plunge the country into new elections now.