The recent shenanigans that preceded the expansion of the government sickened even those reconciled to the reality that, since the Menahem Begin era, there exists a total lack of ethics in the Israeli political arena.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in consolidating his government and may have ensured that it will survive its full term of office – making him the longest presiding Prime Minister of Israel.
In this case, Netanyahu was not being Machiavellian. Like any politician, understandably his principal objective was to increase his paper thin parliamentary majority in order to retain power. But there is little doubt that his objective was also to create a government that reflected the unity of the nation in terms of security issues and which our adversaries and allies alike could not dismiss as extreme right wing. I believe that he genuinely desired to incorporate Zionist Union or the bulk of its parliamentarians into his government. But ultimately he realized – as Herzog himself subsequently conceded – that he was unable to gain the support of the Labour party. Even if Herzog delivered a number of Labour MKs, the coalition would be highly unstable and likely to break up at any time.
Avigdor Lieberman, realizing that his political future was at risk if he remained in an opposition headed by the Joint Arab List, signaled his arch political enemy that he was willing to join the government and in less than 24 hours, the deal was cobbled together.
Netanyahu saved his government by this volte farce. But it may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory.
As the global community prepares to exert more pressure – including UN Security Council Resolutions designed to coerce us into accepting indefensible borders – we will be perceived as having an even more extreme right wing government. This will undoubtedly be exploited by President Obama as justification for not employing the US veto to anti-Israeli Security Council resolutions.
On the domestic level, Netanyahu’s cavalier treatment of his former political allies in order to further his own ends by increasing the government – at any cost – leaves a very bitter taste.
The manner in which Moshe Ya’alon was displaced as Defense Minister by Lieberman was almost surrealistic. When Lieberman served as Foreign Minister he abused his position and misrepresented Israel. To appoint him as Defense Minister, possessing no military experience whatsoever, is grossly unsuitable and reminiscent of the disasters associated with Amir Perez.
In contrast, Moshe Ya’alon was an exemplary Defense Minister of Israel. He was considered a man of exceptional integrity, one of the few who was renowned for promoting the national interest rather than his personal ambitions. His absence from the next Security Cabinet is a great loss for our national security.
Over the past month, Ya’alon was justly criticized for making a number of ill-considered statements, creating tension when encouraging IDF personnel to speak out against political decisions they considered inappropriate.
However, Ya’alon’s controversial remarks had no bearing on Netanyahu’s subsequent acquiescence to Liebermann’s demand for the Defense Ministry. What is clear is that Ya’alon – one of Netanyahu’s loyal allies over many years – was not treated as a loyal partner or adequately consulted. The result was that he exploded and, despite the belated offer of Foreign Minister, resigned from the government and Knesset announcing he would return to politics at a later date and become a contestant for the leadership.
How has this impacted on domestic politics? The country’s biggest loss is Ya’alon whose wise advice and military knowledge is irreplaceable. The other loser is Bugie Herzog who genuinely sought to bring Zionism back into the Labour Party and marginalize the delusionary leftists who have hijacked his party. To this end, he fought his own party colleagues but failed in his effort to create a national unity government. His party will now be in shambles until it sorts itself out and elects a new leader.
The big winner in this new government, aside from Lieberman, will be Yair Lapid who will benefit immensely at the polls and is likely to represent an alternative leadership at the next elections.
The haredim are also delighted because Lieberman, in his thirst for power, had no problem in suspending his passionate commitment to introduce reforms in the religious arena and break the stranglehold of the ultra-orthodox in relation to conversion, marriage and the draft.
Many Israelis are angered with their prime minister. But had he not acted as he did, his government would be on the verge of collapse. What is inexcusable is his humiliation of Ya’alon, who was not even adequately informed to the point where he refused to even remain in the current government – a great loss for the nation.
There are several questions being asked. What price will Netanyahu pay for consolidating his leadership? Internationally, he may face the toughest diplomatic pressures Israel has ever encountered with a retiring US president reputed to be seeking to isolate Israel as his farewell legacy.
How will he cooperate with Lieberman who, until only a few days, ago displayed outright personal animus towards him? It was serious enough when Lieberman went on his independent rampages as Foreign Minister. How will this work whilst he is Defense Minister?
Yet, Lieberman is no fool. Despite portraying himself as a vulgar tough hawk, he has in the past displayed pragmatism, frequently and unexpectedly reversing his position. Perhaps he will surprise us, cooperate with the prime minister and prove that with the right advisers, he will prove to be a competent Defense Minister. But we should not hold our breath.
At the same time, we should treat the media hysteria with a grain of salt. Until a week ago, when Lieberman was Netanyahu’s staunchest critic, he was the media darling. This same Lieberman, who is supposedly moving the government further to the right, prior to the most recent elections was being praised as a pragmatist who would link up with the left to depose Netanyahu.
Despite our anger and frustration over this latest example of our dysfunctional political system, there has been no fundamental change to the government policies. We must rally behind the government’s security policies and show the world that despite the behavior of our politicians, there is a solid consensus throughout the nation favoring separation from the Palestinians – provided we can retain defensible borders and find a genuine Palestinian peace partner. This is not only the policy of the government but of all the Zionist political parties.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom