Is Bibi about to be indicted? I don’t know. However, Israeli politicians are positioning themselves for a post Bibi world. Change is in the air and this is a good time to familiarize ourselves with the right wing politicians who are vying to succeed Bibi. Many of his presumptive successors are people who were close to him at one time but were discarded as soon as Bibi saw them as serious rivals for his position.
Before burying Bibi, let’s give him his due. The recently released State Comptroller’s report on the Gaza war was quite critical of Bibi and the Defense Minister Yaalon. We disagree. Bibi’s innate caution and reluctance to disturb the status quo led to as good a result as could be expected in Operation Protective Edge (the 2014 Gaza war).
As noted by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Herb Keinon in a Jerusalem Post article of April 19, ‘The prime minister also addressed questions about why he did not consider other policy options, and revealed his doctrine on Gaza. There are “very few options with a murderous regime like Hamas,” he said, adding that the options were either deterrence or reconquest of Gaza.
Netanyahu explained that the “price” of reconquest would be too great in terms of IDF soldiers and Palestinian civilians who would be killed. Also, he said, “There is no one to give Gaza back to” after a reconquest operation, making it clear that permanent reconquest is not even a consideration in his mind. As a result, he continued, the only option is deterrence by employing “awesome amounts of force” and the threat of force to get and maintain cease-fires.
An eminently sensible Obama-like analysis of the situation.
The article goes on to note Netanyahu’s response to the criticism of his behavior during the Gaza War. ‘Regarding criticism that the security cabinet was not fully involved in receiving information about the tunnels or in the decision-making process during the war, Netanyahu directly admitted that he had not in the past – and would not in the future – bring data and decisions to the cabinet at the level suggested by the comptroller. He said that the comptroller and his critics recommend a level of micromanagement that simply could not work’.
With the Bayit Yehudi primary scheduled for April 27, let’s start our examination of right wing contenders with Naftali Bennett. Bennett served as chief of staff for Netanyahu before founding the Bayit Yehudi party. Bennet’s problem was not so much Bibi as Sara. As he put it in 2013, ‘Sara and I took a terrorism class together.’ Another source of tension with Bibi is the feeling that Bibi poached Bayit Yehudi voters in the last election.
In contrast to Bibi, Bennett talks of a complete victory in Gaza. It’s not clear what complete victory means in Gaza (see Bibi’s comments above). He was quite critical of Bibi’s and then Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s conduct of the Gaza war. It was also Bennett who proclaimed that the two state solution could be dropped with the election of Trump. Bayit Yehudi is the far right of the right wing coalition. According to IsraelNationalNews, Bennett hopes to merge his party with the Likud and become PM if Bibi is indicted.
Moshe Kahlon has been getting a lot of the headlines lately. In the previous Netanyahu government, he deregulated the cellphone industry, making him very popular – so popular that Netanyahu pushed him aside. Leaving the Likud, he formed his own center-right party, Kulanu, which received 10 seats in the 2014 elections. As a condition for joining the coalition, Kahlon got the Finance Ministry with fairly broad economic powers. Kahlon’s legislative interests are mainly economic, with a special emphasis on helping the economically disadvantaged.
In our last issue, we discussed the politics of reorganizing Israeli broadcasting and how Netanyahu used that issue to weaken (make chopped liver of) Kahlon. In addition to the broadcasting issue, Kahlon’s resents Netanyahu’s taking credit for Kahlon’s successful initiatives.
Last week Kahlon took his revenge. As reported by Raoul Wootliff in the April 19 issue of the Times of Israel, ‘Netanyahu bristles after Kahlon keeps him in dark on tax breaks’. The article goes on, ‘The finance minister on Tuesday presented a package of tax breaks and benefits aimed at increasing the net income of poor and middle-class working families by thousands of shekels a year. The NIS 4 billion a year ($1.1 billion) plan includes subsidies for after-school education, additional tax credits for working parents of children up to age 6, higher income supplements for low-income earners, equalization of tax credits for working fathers and mothers, and tax cuts on children’s clothes, shoes and cellphones’….’Though the proposal would constitute the government’s largest welfare package to date, the prime minister had not been briefed ahead of time or invited to the press conference where Kahlon presented the plan. Speaking on Army Radio Wednesday morning, Finance Ministry Director General Shai Ba’avad even confirmed that treasury officials had not informed the Prime Minister’s Office that they were working on the plan for the last “couple of months.”
It will be interesting to see if Kahlon can keep up his momentum and resurrect his political fortunes.
Moshe Yaalon is a former Chief of Staff of the IDF, serving from 2002 to 2005. As stated in Wikipedia, He was appointed Minister of Defense in March of 2013. He resigned in May of 2016, citing “difficult disagreements on moral and professional matters” with prime minister Netanyahu and warning that “extreme and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud Party”. Yaalon was referring to the extremist right wing elements who attacked him when he stated that Elor Azaria had committed a crime by killing an unarmed and helpless Palestinian terrorist. Yaalon was extremely critical of Bibi who took a conciliatory stance toward Azaria.
Yaalon’s response to the threats was, “I have no intention of yielding in the battle for the image of the State of Israel and Israeli society. I will fight and I will continue to fight for a just, sane and moral State of Israel. We must unequivocally safeguard a sane and progressive society, which sanctifies life, adheres to the rule of law and the supremacy of the law, and that fights violence and racism and the exclusion of the other simply because he is other. This is not a matter of right or left — this is our future and that of our children. This is the question of what kind of country we aspire to live in: a country that is part of the family of nations, Jewish and democratic, modern and tolerant, or a country that is descending into dangerous and destructive areas.”
A very impressive response! Yaalon is now trying to form a new political party. He is a very decent, thoughtful and uncharismatic individual. That’s three strikes against him as a Israeli politician. It’s hard to see his new party going anywhere. However, he would be a strong addition to the slate of any party.
Within the Likud, there are three prominent contenders for leadership when Bibi goes. They are Gidon Saar, Gilad Erdan and Yisrael Katz.
Gidon Saar is taking a low profile approach to succeeding Netanyahu. In 2014, he took a break from politics, stating that he wanted more time for his family. Some speculate that tensions with Bibi led to his resignation. On April 3, he announced his return to politics stating that his intent is to become the next PM. His strategy is to stay close to Netanyahu by supporting Bibi in the next election. He hopes to retain his popularity with the Likud membership. In 2008 and 2012, Saar topped the field in the Likud primaries. If Bibi is indicted, Saar will be more than ready to step in as a candidate for PM.
Gilad Erdan has stayed in the Likud leadership all along. He, like Saar, is extremely popular with Likud voters. When Gidon Saar resigned from the Knesset, Erdan became Minister of Internal Affairs. After the 2015 elections, Erdan played a game of high stakes chicken with Netanyahu by turning down offers of inferior cabinet positions. He finally got a large ministerial portfolio consisting of Ministry of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information. He, too, is prepared to take over in a post Bibi Likud.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is yet another Likudnik ready to take over if Bibi goes. Katz is a party apparatchik who heads the secretariat of the Likud. Wikipedia notes, ‘In March 2007, the Israel Police recommended indicting Katz on charges of fraud and breach of trust linked to political appointments at the Ministry of Agriculture during his tenure as minister. The report found 24 seasonal ministry employees were members of the Likud Central Committee or were children of committee members. The police transferred their investigative material to the central district prosecution, which subsequently declined to prosecute.’ Katz has announced that he will be a candidate to head the Likud when Bibi steps down.
Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, is Defense Minister in the present government. He has done a good job as Defense Minister and has eschewed demagoguery since taking over as Defense Minister. He is a strong supporter of a two state solution. Liberman, as did Bennett, served as chief of staff for Netanyahu. He split with Netanyahu over the latter’s acceptance of the Wye River Memorandum and formed the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Just before the last elections two former high ranking members of Yisrael Beiteinu were indicted for corruption. This resulted in Yisrael Beiteinu ending up with 7 mandates in the last election – down from 13 in the previous Knesset. Liberman’s only hope of becoming the leader of the right wing is a merger with Likud. The rivalry between Bennett and Liberman is fierce.