August 7, 1998
Netanyahu Suffers Knesset Defeat
Binyamin Netanyahu recently suffered the most wounding parliamentary defeat of his two-year premiership. It left the Likud leader more dependent than ever on the pro-settler right, which has threatened to bring him down if he hands any more of the occupied West Bank to Yasser Arafat.
The opposition mustered 60 votes, exactly half the Knesset, in favor of early elections. Dan Meridor, a disenchanted Likud former Finance Minister, broke ranks and voted for the dissolution. So did three coalition legislators from the centrist Third Way and four supporters of David Levy, Netanyahu's former Foreign Minister, who were elected on the Likud ticket.
They were protesting the government's foot-dragging in the Palestinian peace negotiations, and the failure of its social and economic strategy. For the first time in the 50-year history of the Jewish state, unemployment has topped 200,000, almost 10 percent of the work force, while public health services are collapsing.
All but six of the remaining coalition members boycotted the vote. Netanyahu presented this as a gesture of contempt for the opposition maneuvers, but Israeli commentators interpreted it as a confession of weakness. The prime minister had canvassed every coalition waverer, but computed on Tuesday night that he was not going to get his majority.
"Bibi ran away," Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot Aharonot. "It was as if the French team had refused to take the field against Brazil in the World Cup final.... Too many coalition members feel they have been led astray by their leader too many times. Their rebellion is the rebellion of the manipulated."
Despite the 60-6 preliminary vote in favor of dissolution, elections are not around the corner. Deputies went on recess last week for three months. The bill faces three readings and a committee debate after they return. The coalition dissidents still have time to choose between their consciences and their careers.
The Labor opposition has unwittingly built Netanyahu a platform from which to fight back. A few hours before the telling vote, one of its leading Knesset members, former Gen. Ori Orr, delivered a blistering attack on the oriental Jewish voters and politicians whom Labor must woo if they are to defeat the Likud.
"The Sephardim," he complained in the liberal daily, Ha'aretz, "want to hold on to their feelings of ethnic frustration so that they can exploit them for political gains.... Everything we have done for them has not helped."
Seizing this timely gift, Netanyahu immediately projected himself as the champion of equality, justice and national unity. Labor leader Ehud Barak repudiated Orr, but the damage was done. With the old stain of Ashkenazi superiority back on its forehead, Labor will hesitate to rush to the hustings.
Muslim Nations and the Peace Plan
Recently 16 nations, all of them Islamic, concluded a two-day meeting in Morocco. They were concerned with the situation in Jerusalem. Their conclusion: They called for all Muslim states to copnsider ending all ties---diplomatic and economic---with Israel. They also urged the Vatican to oppose the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel " and called on Christians to resist Israeli bids to Judaize the Holy City." King Hassan of Morocco chaired the committee that passed the resolution.
In recent years some of these same Moslem states had started to rebuild relations with Israel. All this was under the beneficient umbrella of the peace process. Now they are talking of shutting missions and diplomatic offices until Israel "bows down to its peace commitments."
One can view this as an example of "fair-weather friends" in action; which means no loss to Israel. Or some of the fallout accompanying the stalled peace negotiations. -- Staff Report.