YERUSHALAYIM, ISRAEL: Very few people know the real reason Israel jumped from preparations for another summer of disruptive street demonstrations by bored young people who want free housing in the center of Tel Aviv to mourning the prime minister’s father to a vicious election campaign all in less than 24 hours.
I for one am not convinced that we are in a true election cycle just yet and no – I’m not claiming to be one of those in the know.
What I am advocating is that we all take a deep breath and look reality in the face.
Many of the MK’s supposedly voting to go to elections will not be reelected. Many of those sitting in government will not be in the next government. Since we know that the majority (if not all) of the people in those seats care first and foremost for numero uno, why are they so willing to suddenly shorten their term in office? I contend that they are not doing this willingly – something else is motivating the move.
We have to take a good hard look at the goings on that started late last week and continue “with fervor” at this moment as the “campaign” kicks off.
There are a number of factors that may have caused the “need” for elections – some personal, some political, some visible and yet others less visible. More convincing, to my mind, are the reasons NOT to go to elections.
Let’s take a look at some arguments, pro and con – shall we?
1. Several seemingly powerful people were looking at the upcoming summer and wondering where it was leading them on a personal and party level. To name but a few:
- Avigdor Lieberman (Minister of Foreign Affairs, head of secular Zionist Yisrael Beiteinu party) is fearful that his indictment will be upheld and that he will have to face a trial on fraud and racketeering charges;
- Eli Yishai (Minister of Interior Affairs, political leader of Sephardic religious Shas party) is spooked by the possibility of the return of Aryeh Deri, the powerful leader of Shas past who has completed his court-ordered political exile and is vying for a return to power;
- Shaul Mofaz (leader of the opposition and the Kadima party, former Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense) is interested in solidifying his role at the head of Ariel Sharon’s creation (Kadima) and in “cleaning house” of any memories of Ehud Olmert and Tzippy Livni;
- Ehud Barak, the defense minister and leader of the Atzmauth faction (with no party, or electoral power behind them) is holding on to a tenuous positions as the prime minister’s left-leaning fig-leaf and designated “settler” basher.
2. Yair Lapid, the bright political star of the moment, starts putting together his own political grouping, flirting with Tzippy Livni who, despite reports of her political demise, has yet to chirp her last political statement on the Israeli scene. Many truly powerful people, popular names in banking and industry are flirting with this new party as well (as we see by the way in every Israeli election cycle).
3. Former PM Ehud Olmert, former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Mossad director Meir Dagan and former Shaback director Yuval Diskin among others yapping away in public, voicing their personal opinions on Iran and the need to stop the bomb. This new epidemic of “formers” taking to the microphone and the media shook many in the Israeli establishment and caused an uproar that called the current leadership into question. Elections allow these statements to be used and abused by friend and foe alike and people such as Mofaz did not want to get stuck holding the cup for all of them.
4. Mitt Romney solidifying his place as the GOP nominee for president means that the race is on domestically in the United States. If elections take place in Israel while the American campaign is at its peak the current administration will not have the time, resources or energy to get involved in internal Israeli affairs – as happened to Netanyahu last time he faced off against Barak in 1999 – when then president Clinton sent money and advisors to help the Labor leader unseat the Likud one.
5. The Knesset calendar which includes the expiration of Tal Law and the need to legislate a more just and equal system of responsibilities, the budget (always a hot ticket item), and the Supreme Court’s insistence that it alone will decide where and how Jews will live in Israel, created many cracks in the society – cracks that are broadened by an election cycle but can also be temporarily fixed by a new coalition agreement.
There are many more and I can go on for a while, but I will stop here as I think the point has been made: personal issues, legal issues, court issues, budget, legislation, party politics, US elections AND Iran, all make for a good reason to shake things up, find new partners and make new agreements.
BUT! And here is the big one – in Israel one does not have to go to elections in order to shake up the government infrastructure. As we saw when Barak was having internal problems as leader of Labor, all one has to do is “reshuffle” the seats, add some chairs, give more people a personal body guard, a bigger car, a budget and a title, and walla! We have a new coalition agreement and a new government.
Will some bolt if this is done – oh yes – no question there will be threats. But think of it this way – if Netanyahu trades up – say brings in Mofaz and his 28 seats – as a stay against a move by Lieberman (15 seats) or Shas (11 seats) – even if both bolt (which they won’t) – he still has a net gain of two, and less headache from a potentially strong opposition.
Livni has already quit the Knesset and by law has to be reelected to come back, Deri is not in until he finds (or founds) a political home and gets elected; Lapid is still an outsider along with his fancy partners at least until new elections are held; Lieberman is bringing in some heavy names such as Yair Shamir (son of former PM Yitzchak) and Ze’ev Jabotinsky (grandson of) to shore up his flank (and his party in case he has to resign); and Barak is political dust in the hands of Netanyahu. As Netanyahu learned this week – his biggest headache and gamble is within his own party ranks – all this does not add up to a PM who wants new elections.
I am not saying we are not going to elections – I am not saying we are. I am just saying – lets wait and see how the cards fall and (if and) when the election law is passed – then we can start the new party (or parties).
My experienced political gut tells me we are in for a Netanyahu-Mofaz surprise…
About the Author: Mike Cohen is the editor of the recently published book Zionism, Post-Zionism & The Arab Problem (Hebrew: 2011 Gefen Publishers, Jerusalem; English: 2012 Professors Press & Westbow Press). His website is: drmikecohen.info