Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Israel To Have New Elections As Netanyahu's Coalition Collapses
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced today that he is dissolving the Israeli Knesset and that Israel will go to new elections, probably in March of next year.
In his speech, he announced the firing of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua and Finance Minister Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, thus ending what was always a fairly shaky and adversarial coalition government.
At his press conference, Netanyahu accused Livni and Lapid of attempting to mount what he called a 'putsch' by attempting to bribe the ultra-Orthodox parties into backing them in removing Netanyahu. He also mentioned what had become the increasingly adversarial interaction within his governing coalition.
“The finance minister who failed in managing the economy joined the justice minister in the dark in order to topple the government,” Netanyahu charged. “In one word, we call that a putsch. It’s impossible to run a government and a state this way, and therefore I advised the cabinet secretary to fire Livni and Lapid.”
“I will not tolerate opposition from within the cabinet,” he added, officially announcing that he would dissolve the current Knesset and send the country’s citizens back to the polls for the second time in two years. “The people of Israel deserve a better, more stable, more harmonious government,” he said.
Needless to say, both Livni and Lapid denounced Netanyahu in harsh terms, while Labor Party leader Yitzhak Herzog was quick to call for the Left to join together to defeat Netanyahu “under the leadership of the Labor Party and to restore hope.” Naturally Herzog, who wants to be Israel's Prime Minister said that the elections would be Likud against Labor.
Here's what's really behind all this.
The 203 elections resulted in a few surprises,the main one which was Yair Lapid and his new party Yesh Atid. Yesh Atid took 19 seats (Israel has a unicameral government and seats, called 'mandates' are determined by the percentage of popular vote,with 61 seats needed for the majority needed to govern). Lapid in some ways was an Israeli Bill Clinton, a somewhat charismatic media figure with a nice line in platitudes about 'social justice' that played well if you didn't listen closely enough to figure out he really wasn't saying much. And in those calmer days, a larger portion of the Israeli electorate was prepared to vote for it.
Because of his strong showing at the polls,Netanyahu needed him to help him form a governing coalition. That cost Bibi the support of the Religious parties like Shas and United Torah Judaism, but Yesh Atid offset that.
Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu had 31 mandates, and Lapid brought in another 19. The rest of the governing coalition came from a rising star on the Right, Naftali Bennett and Beit Yahudi (Jewish Home)with 12 mandates and Tzipi Livni and her Hatnua faction, which brought in six.
Livni, who would cheerfully give Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas/Fatah anything they wanted in exchange for a piece of worthless paper is one of the Obama Administration's favorite Israelis. Her 6 mandates weren't needed for a majority, but Netanyahu brought her in and announced that she would be heading negotiations with Abbas and the PLO as a major concession to the Obama Administration...which of course proved futile.
Lapid was made Israel's finance minister, in accordance with the horsetrading of ministries and perks that customarily goes on to form a governing coalition.When I asked an Israeli friend if Lapid knew anything about finance, he replied 'maybe enough to work an ATM.'
Lapid was out of his depth, coming up with half-baked plans that looked good on paper but absolutely did not work out in the real world. And he and Netanyahu, who actually was a former finance minister with a successful track record clashed on that, on Lapid's constant sniping and his unnecessary provocation of Israel's religious constituency.
Tzipi Livni is the kind of negotiator you would send to Starbucks to get coffee for the office who would come back later without any coffee or money and missing her shoes and jacket, talking about what a great deal she'd made. She also had the annoying habit of meeting in secret with the Palestinians without Netanyahu's OK and making public statements without clearing them with Netanyahu and the Knesset security council.
Both of them in their own way were loose cannons. And loud, egotistical ones at that
As the Israeli public moved to the right,both were seen as increasingly dysfunctional and lost support in the polls.
And that's essentially the story right there.
Once President Obama showed that his hostility towards Israel remained unabated and the peace talks ground to a halt ust like they were always going to, there was no further reason to cater to the president by keeping Livni around. She was on her way out anyway.
When it came to Lapid, it was a slightly different story. Netanyahu had a meeting with him in which he reportedly made several demands Lapid was unwilling to comply with. And to be honest about it,Netanyahu probably planned it that way. He was simply tired of him, and Lapid's rapidly declining public support made him a far less desirable dance partner.
Netanyahu sees this as an opportunity to take advantage of the Israeli electorates' Right turn to put together a much more unified coalition.
Here are some polls; if elections were to be held today,Israeli TV channel 10 shows Netanyahu's Likud winning 22 seats, Naftali Bennett's Beit Yahudi taking 17 seats and Israel Beiteinu winning 12 seats. Add in Shas and UTJ ( projected to win 7 and 8 seats respectively) and there a clear majority. By contrast, Lapid's Yesh Atid is projected to win only 9 seats, Livni's Hatnua is reduced to 4 and Labor falls to 13.
Israeli TV channel 2 showed Likud with 22, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, the new party led by Moshe Kahlon and Yisrael Beytenu with 10 apiece, Yesh Atid with nine, Shas with nine, United Torah Judaism with eight, Meretz with seven, Hatnua with four.
Other polls show similar numbers.
Netanyahu sees two things going on...the fall in support for the Left and the rise in support for his rival on the Right, Naftali Bennett. He sees it as smart politics to strike now, and based on the numbers that's understandable.
Will the numbers change by March? We'll see. One thing you can count on is Barack Obama funneling money and personnel to Yitzhak Herzog and the Labor Party.