Wednesday, May 18, 2016
The Story Behind The Israeli Government's Move To The Right
There had been a fair amount of talk about Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu bringing the leftist Zionist Union Party, the shotgun wedding between Labor and Tzipi Livni's fractional Hatnua faction into Netanyahu's center right coalition in a unity government. Netanyahu and ZU leader Yitzhak Herzog were reportedly engaged in negotiations to do just that.
But today, a political thunderbolt hit, with Netanyahu instead bringing a party on the right, Israeli Beiteinu and its leader Avigdor Liberman into the coalition instead, increasing Netanyahu's Knesset majority from an unstable 61 seats to a much more solid 67 seats.
Liberman will reportedly replace General Moshe 'Boogie' Ya'alon as defense minister and the announcement could come as soon as tomorrow.
The back story here is fascinating.
Yitzhak Herzog, or 'Buji' as he's referred to by many Israelis * is head of a steadily decreasing Leftist faction since the last election when Zionist Union was decisively beaten by Likud and other parties on the right. As a consequence, Herzog, whose party received substantial money and assistance from Obama Administration functionaries during the election was seen as ineffectual and a loser.
For Buji, going into the coalition was seen as a lifeline to make ZU politically relevant again, and he had support from US Secretary of State John Kerry, former British PM and Quartet envoy Tony Blair and socialist French PM Hollande among others who were trying to push Netanyahu into putting together a more 'centrist' government.
However, Herzog had a major problem - his Zionist Union colleagues mostly hated the idea like poison, and a lot of them were already no huge fans of Buji.
Tzipi Livni said she would take her Hatnua faction and its six seats out of Zionist Union rather than join the government, and Herzog's far left rival for party leadership Shelly Yachimovich threatened a revolt.
So Herzog's solution was to up the price for joining to the point where even the most reluctant members of ZU would go along. He reportedly demanded control of Israel's Foreign ministry and a veto on anything concerning Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem. Not only did he price himself out of the market, but the fracas from ZU made Netanyahu doubt Herzog could bring his party along with him.
So Netanyahu reached out to Avigdor Liberman, with whom he had a long standing feud that dated back to a joint list agreement between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu which Liberman felt was unfair in its application as well as disagreements on policy.
The two men have apparently patched up their differences or at least put them aside for now and agreed to work together, with a formal announcement reportedly to be issued shortly.
While General Ya'alon has an honorable record as a soldier, he has been a fairly controversial Defense Minister. The most recent incident was his decision to prosecute an IDF soldier with a superb record whom shot a terrorist whom was already wounded and on the ground in the course of an attack on Israeli civilians. The soldier's defense is that he had no idea whether the wounded attacker had a bomb belt on or a firearm in his pockets, and Ya'alon's insistence that he be prosecuted has been extremely controversial in Israel. Other problems like leaks and statements critical of the government coming from Ya'alon and some of his subordinates have also been a problem as well as his essentially ignoring policy on a number of matters. He simply forgot whom was giving the orders.
Liberman, while he lacks Ya'alon's military experience ( he served as a corporal in the IDF) has a very different view of things like prosecuting a soldier for killing a terrorist.
His take on the matter? “It’s better to have a soldier who made a mistake and lived than one who hesitated and had a terrorist kill him.”
That kind of attitude will probably resonate a lot better from a common sense standpoint with the Israeli public whose loved ones serve in the IDF.
There are also some signs that Liberman has gotten some control over his tendency to shoot from the lip, but we'll see.
Ya'alon was offered the fairly influential post of Foreign Minister by Netanyahu had he chosen to stay on, but instead he chose to resign and leave the government in a huff after making a rather heated speech that could best be paraphrased as 'Apres moi, le deluge.'
I have also heard a strong rumor from another source that Naftali Bennett from Jewish Home will be moving from education minister to head the Foreign Ministry. I have my doubts but we'll see how that develops.
But in any event, the government on the Right Israelis voted for looks likely to be preserved, ZU is out in the cold where they belong and Yitzhak Herzog will not be embedded in position to be a willing tool to pressure Netanyahu and the Israeli government to make ridiculous concessions for a few empty promises and a worthless piece of paper.
* In Hebrew, 'Buji' is slang for a little doll or toy. In an interview with MK Herzog's mother, she unfortunately revealed that this was her pet name for him as a child and in view of his extremely diminutive stature, Yitzak Herzog has been stuck with it ever since. It is not considered a term of endearment by most Israelis whom use it to refer to MK Herzog.