Seventy days ago, Kadima joined the governing coalition and saved Netanyahu from early elections. In exchange, Bibi promised that a Kadima-led committee would draft a new universal service bill. Thus, the Plesner committee was born.
But all was not well with the Plesner committee, and by the time its report was ready, members of the committee had resigned, arguing that the report was imposing too drastic a change, too quickly, on the Haredim. Netanyahu, mindful of the historic Likud-Haredi entente forged by Menachem Begin in 1977, was alarmed by the yet-unpublished Plesner report’s hard line. Instead of reaching out to Mofaz in order to get the committee to soften its stance, Netanyahu unilaterally disbanded the committee, reneging on the bargain he struck with Kadima. This left Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz with two options: negotiate to save face, or leave the government.
For a moment, It looked as though Bibi and Mofaz would come to terms. While Mofaz pushed back against Netanyahu by publishing the Plesner report on the Kadima website, he left the door open for compromise by calling for Netanyahu to accept the general “principles” of the Plesner report as the basis for a new draft law, rather than the particular recommendations in the report. Indeed, Netanyahu seemed poised to do just that and strike a bargain with Mofaz. But when Likud and Kadima negotiators sat down to hammer out the details, they were unable to come to a compromise. Mofaz had little choice but to head for the nearest exit.
This saga raises questions about Netanyahu’s handling of the draft-law negotiations. Whatever his flaws, Bibi is a skilled politician. Throughout his second term as Prime Minister, he’s demonstrated a new-found ability to navigate the rocky shoals of Israeli coalition politics. Netanyahu should have known that disbanding the Plesner committee would send Kadima into the opposition. Why, then, did Netanyahu take such a heavy-handed approach? Why did he unilaterally dissolve the Plesner committee instead of reaching out to Mofaz in order to temper some of the reports more problematic recommendations? Why didn’t he come to terms with Mofaz during their personal meetings? Why didn’t Netanyahu allow his negotiators to close the deal? Did Netanyahu really want a deal if it meant handing Kadima a political victory?
With kadima gone, it is will be impossible for the government to pass a new draft bill. While Netanyahu and the Likud are drafting their own version of a universal service law, Lieberman is still insisting that Likud adopt his national service law. Since Lieberman’s bill takes an even harder line than the Kadima proposals Netanyahu rejected as too extreme, it is difficult to see how Likud could support it. Moreover, even if Lieberman and Netanyahu magically decide to support the same piece of legislation, they no longer have enough votes in the Knesset to pass it. By pushing Mofaz out the door, Netanyahu effectively shut the window of opportunity for a universal service law in the current Knesset.
Luckily, the current Knesset may not be around for much longer. The present coalition is teetering like a fiddler on the roof. An ever growing chorus is calling for early elections, and Lieberman has hinted that he may join them if the Likud fails to adopt his national service law. On the other hand, if Bibi manages to pull a rabbit out his shtreimel and magically pass a universal service bill, the Haredi parties will withdraw from the coalition. Either way, the government will come crashing down.
Sooner or later, Netanyahu will face a general election. In all likelihood, Netanyahu will win that election. And because Netanyahu pushed Kadima out of his last coalition, the Haredi parties will be there for him when he puts together his next coalition. For those who support Netanyahu and Lieberman, this should raise the question: who are the suckers, now?