July 5, 2012
Five comments on Israel’s political crisis
There is a crisis, and as much as all parties would like to avoid further escalation of it, it’s not at all clear that they still have control over their own fate. Why the crisis? Simply and very briefly put: Kadima joined Netanyahu’s coalition to save itself from annihilation. To achieve such a goal, it needs something with which it can demonstrate why it was good for the public to have such vast coalition (94 members). The most available achievement was Ulegislation that will finally put an end to Israel’s immoral and unsustainable arrangement that lets ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva students evade military service, and the job market. With a vast coalition, Haredi political power becomes less relevant and the ability to pass such legislation is there. Hence, a committee, recommendations, promises to the public, on the road to equality.
Alas, the Prime Minister, initially supportive of this effort, suddenly got cold feet. The committee is dismantled, promises broken, humiliation evident. Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz is angry for good reason. Netanyahu has made him seem like an amateur, seem foolish. Kadima - unless handed a very tall political ladder - will have to leave the coalition.
Kadima can’t really leave. Well, it can, but the consequences would be devastating. Look at the polls and the trends: Kadima is a mirage, 28 mandates in the Knesset and almost no public support. For Kadima’s MKs, the next election will mark the end of much desired political careers. Thus, Mofaz needs a ladder, is almost begging for a ladder. And he will get one, very soon, and he will hold on tight and attempt to try down. But it is not at all clear that he’ll be able to convince his other Kadima friends to hold on to this ladder too, and climb down to the safety of the coalition with him.
Kadima is like a drowning vessel, and the captain, attempting to keep things orderly, is losing control. In politics, it is always every man for himself. In the politics of desperadoes, it is every man for himself and against all others. On Monday, Kadima members will gather and make a decision: do they want to die now, with some dignity, or most likely die later without dignity. It reminds me of George Costanza’s unforgettable saying: “I live my whole life in shame, why should I die with dignity?”
But Netanyahu still wants Kadima to stay. That is, if the price isn’t too high, if he doesn’t have to lose of hope of ever again winning the support of the ultra-Orthodox parties. I spoke to one of Netanyahu’s men today. He called to express his anticipated unhappiness with the article I posted yesterday in the IHT-New York Times. “You’ve been too harsh with the PM,” he said. “Netanyahu is serious about passing meaningful legislation but can’t let this process to be handled in such amateurish way. Why did Mofaz appoint a novice MK to head the committee? Why the constant leaks from the committee? Why the urge to make this a public confrontation - don’t you know Haredi leaders can only compromise if we let them save face?” This is a sensitive matter, Netanyahu is telling those willing to listen - including some Kadima MKs. It cannot be fixed with a hammer.
Still, Netanyahu knows that an election focused on the Haredi issue, an election season in which he will be depicted as the man who sold out the majority interest to a vocal and highly engaged minority, is dangerous. Luckily for him, there are not many leaders in the arena who can be considered candidates to steal his crown. But one can sense some nervousness in the PM’s castle. Like a kid with a new toy, two months ago Netanyahu was quite happy with a stable coalition that did not include Kadima, but now, the possibility of losing the toy is making everybody glum.
As for substance, if anyone still cares, the Plesner committee did a fine job. The plan is solid and sensible. One can omit an element here and delete a recommendation there if there’s a need to pretend that the deal is a “compromise” and not dictated by the committee. But all in all, it is a measured plan (I’d probably toughen it a bit more), with sticks and carrots and all that is needed to put an end to a shameful and hurtful arrangement. It is time.
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