MIDEAST MIRROR 01.05.15, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
Let them bleed
Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth lead their weekend editions with the fallout from the first coalition deals that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has signed with Kulanu and United Torah Judaism. According to the lead headline in the increasingly anti-Netanyahu Yedioth Ahronoth, part of the coalition agreement with UTJ will see 1 billion shekels transferred to the ultra-Orthodox education system, at the expense of state-run secular schools. Israel Hayom leads with the same headline that Haaretz had a day before – that Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party has managed to get Netanyahu to promise to increase tax and duty on second homes.
The Jerusalem Post fronts a story that appears prominently in all the papers: the demonstration by Ethiopian-born Israelis and second-generation immigrants from Ethiopia against police brutality and racism. Hundreds of Israelis of Ethiopian descent participated in the demonstration, which was called after video footage emerged on Monday, showing policemen beating an Ethiopian-born IDF soldier, who said later that he was the target of a racist attack.
At least 10 protesters and three police officers were injured in scuffles that erupted during more than nine hours of demonstrations in the capital. Protesters who tried to march on the prime minister's residence clashed with police and threw rocks and glass bottles at them. The protestors afterwards blocked the entrance to the city near the chords bridge.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned the police brutality toward the IDF soldier, and also urged the protesters to avoid violence. 'I strongly condemn the beating of the soldier from the Ethiopian community and those responsible will answer for it,' Netanyahu said in a statement. 'But at the same time, no one should take the law into their hands. Immigrants from Ethiopia and their families are dear to us, and the State of Israel is making great efforts to ease their integration.'
President Reuven Rivlin also commented on the controversial video in a meeting earlier in the day with Ethiopian-Israeli students. Rivlin expressed shock at the images, but also praised police for acting swiftly to carry out a thorough investigation. He added such incidents 'must serve as a warning sign, and an opportunity to conduct some genuine and thorough introspection on the issue of the relationship between law enforcement services and the different communities that make up Israeli society.'
Haaretz leads with an interview with Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In the interview, Bensouda told Haaretz that if she decides to open an investigation of war crimes committed in the West Bank and Gaza, low- and middle-rank Israeli soldiers could potentially be investigated for the purpose of 'bringing stronger cases against those most responsible.' However, Bensouda emphasized that the court is now only examining whether such an investigation is warranted, and that if there is a decision to go forward with one, the investigation 'will of course look into the alleged crimes committed by all sides to the conflict' beginning in June 2014, the eve of Operation Protective Edge.
Bensouda was asked whether the ICC’s strategic plan to investigate lower- and mid-level operatives means that every Israeli soldier who ever served in the West Bank and Gaza should be worried. 'If an investigation is opened in any given situation, my office will be guided by a policy of investigating and prosecuting those most responsible for committing mass crimes,' she replied.
In other news, Israel Radio reports that the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, visited Gaza for the first time on Thursday, and called on Israel to lift the blockade on the Strip. 'The UN and the international community are committed not only to the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip, but also to the removal of restrictions on the movement of residents and the entry of goods into its territory,' said Mladenov.
Finally, Haaretz reports that Israel is blaming its Arab neighbors for the failure of progress toward achieving a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, saying that 'if a serious regional effort has not emerged in the Middle East during the last five years, it is not because of Israel.' The statement by Israel, distributed Thursday to a global conference on a landmark disarmament treaty, is the country's first public comment since it showed up as a surprise observer.
LET THEM BLEED: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Alex Fishman warns that Israel could find itself being dragged into the conflict in Syria, if it expands the range of targets that it attacks on the Golan Heights.
"The official policy that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has presented to the security establishment in light of developments on the Syrian front is very simple: Let them bleed. In other words, on a strategic level, we are not interfering on anyone's behalf. As far as Israel is concerned, this is a war that Iran is waging against members of the global jihadi movement and Syrian Islamist organizations, in order to safeguard the regime of its most senior client in the Middle East; that of President Bashar al-Assad. Israel has not yet decided which of the protagonists it would prefer to see as its neighbor on the northern front. Until a decision is made, therefore, let them go on killing each other.
Israel may not be interfering in the Syrian Civil War, but when it comes to Israel's interests, there are those who claim that it is involved up to its neck. Nothing that happens on the border with Syria happens by chance. It is highly unlikely that the aerial vehicle that took out four terrorists who were trying to plant a bomb on the border fence in the Golan Heights last week just happened to be hovering in the region for no good reason. A similar attack, some 18 months ago, in which a senior IDF officer was injured, was also the work of Druze Syrian nationalists operated by Hizbollah. It is safe to assume that the people responsible for that incident are also no longer with us – and that they did not meet a natural demise. That also includes the deputy of freed prisoner Samir Kuntar, who was responsible for organizing all hostile activity emanating from the five Druze villages on the Syrian part of the northern Golan Heights. He too, according to reports in Lebanese media, has been dispatched to meet his maker.
In addition, the timing of the attack on a convoy including Jihad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for Hizbollah activity on the Golan Heights, was not coincidental; it happened just three days after a very belligerent interview by Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, in which he threatened to punish Israel for its alleged attacks in Syria. Someone in the Middle East took him seriously and decided to turn the table on Hizbollah. Ya'alon said at the time that Hizbollah’s infrastructure on the Golan Heights had been destroyed; that was true at the time, but did not remain so for much longer.
Israel is making a massive effort – in terms of intelligence and in operational terms – along the border with Syria to prevent the fighting from spilling over into its territory. This daily struggle, which the IDF refers to as 'the war between the wars,' is, it seems, the reason that Unit 504 (Military Intelligence's human intelligence unit) was recently decorated for its work. The results of Unit 504's work are there for all to see along the border. It has created a viable deterrence factor and has prevented infiltrations. Indeed, since most of the Syrian army has been driven back from the border area and its positions taken by radical Islamic organization like the al-Nusra Front, there has not been a single incident of a jihadi group attacking Israel. This would seem to indicate that Israel has total control – intelligence and operational – over both sides of the border.
There are two exceptions to the 'let them bleed' strategy. The first is when Israel's sovereignty is violated and the second is when certain weapons spill over from Syria into Lebanon. In most of the cases when foreign media sources say that Israel has attacked targets inside Syria – apart from cases of deterrence and retribution – these are low-profile military operations that do not leave behind fingerprints and for which Israel does not take responsibility. Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War four years ago, this tactic has proved itself to be effective. In some cases, the party that is attacked assumes that Israel was responsible, but refrains from carrying out revenge attacks, since opening up a new front against Israel is way down its list of priorities. Syria, Iran and Hizbollah are well aware of Israel's red lines. As long as Israel sticks to its own rules and only carries out low-profile attacks that do not directly serve the interests of the anti-Assad rebel forces, they are willing to swallow their pride.
It is safe to assume that the selection of targets and the way that military operations are carried out is designed to boost the deterrence factor; to send a message to the other side that it should not try to transport weapons that might limit the Israeli air force's freedom of operation in Lebanese airspace. This calculated risk has proved itself thus far – and therein lays the danger. The more time that elapses – and this is true of the operational branch as well as the decision-makers in Jerusalem – the more there is a tendency to be overly happy with the results; to increase the stakes and to take more risks. The choice of targets will become less and less selective, there will be more assumptions made about the weakness of the enemy and Israel could find itself becoming an integral part of the conflict in Syria. So even if Hizbollah has fewer advanced and accurate missiles in Lebanon, the Golan Heights will become a conflict zone. The defense minister and the prime minister have a key role in ensuring that this does not happen."
THINK TWICE: Writing in Israel Hayom, Yaakov Amidror urges the government and the defense establishment to resist the temptation to launch a preemptive strike against Hizbollah, since the ramifications – political and military – would not be worth the risk.
"Following rumors last week that Israel had attacked targets inside Syria, the explanation was given that the alleged Israeli attack was approved in order to prevent the supply of advanced weapons to Hizbollah. Analysts asked whether there was any point in the attack, since, according to the information available, the Shiite organization already has more than 100,000 missiles and rockets in its possession – so what difference it makes if we destroy a few dozen more. It's just a drop in the ocean, they say, so why risk escalation for such a small payback?
The answer to that question came from various sources; the main gist of the explanation is that Israel uses aerial force only when the weapons in question are much more accurate or have a far greater range than anything currently in Hizbollah’s arsenal. It is safe to assume that only in such cases does Israel do whatever it takes to prevent such weapons reaching their destination and that in these cases it is willing to risk the wrath of the Lebanese terror organization.
These risk-management calculations are based on Military Intelligence's profound knowledge of Hizbollah – especially the lessons that it learnt from previous conflicts. Given the price that it paid in the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah has been exceptionally cautious since 2006; he does not want a repeat of what happened then. Moreover, he is currently in a far more complicated situation now, because of his organization's involvement in the fighting in Syria, which has split his force into two.
Hizbollah cannot simply abandon its massive involvement in Syria, even though it is paying a very heavy price in terms of fatalities and resources. So much so, in fact, that it is now less able to operate against Israel. This is because keeping Bashar al-Assad in power is a critical goal. If Syria falls into Sunni hands, Hizbollah will face an existential threat and its Lebanese stronghold will be under constant threat. Without Syria – which is Hizbollah’s bridge to Iran and the source of all its weaponry – the organization will find it very hard to protect everything that it has worked so hard to create in Lebanon. This would also prevent it from rearming in the future. Hizbollah is fighting in Syria, in part, because its fate is indelibly linked to that of the Alawite regime.
The lessons of 2006, coupled with the need to invest its energy and resources in Syria, are forcing Nasrallah to respond cautiously – or not to respond at all – to alleged Israeli attacks in Syria, even if the targets destroyed belong to Hizbollah. Nasrallah may have said that he would respond differently to an attack on Lebanese soil, but the only time that a recent incident involved Lebanon, when several members of the organization were killed when a listening device exploded, Hizbollah responded with extreme caution. Even when there were almost open reports that Israel had attacked a convoy on the Golan Heights, killed senior Hizbollah and Iranian officers, the organization responded with the same degree of caution.
From the other side, equally weighty questions are being asked: Why does Israel not attack Hizbollah directly? What are we waiting for? Why not take advantage of the temporary weakness of Hizbollah, which is deployed on two fronts, to strike it before it is better able to defend itself? These are legitimate questions.
Israel has launched preemptive strikes in the past. The advantage of such attacks is obvious: the element of surprise allows the IDF to use intelligence to better inform its decisions and to strike at an unprepared enemy, causing it much greater damage than otherwise.
But preemptive strikes also have a down side. In the modern age, when world leaders are utterly opposed to military action that is not a response to clear provocation, the international response to any preemptive Israeli operation in Lebanon would be furious.
Any such war would be long and painful, and Israel would take many months of rocket attacks. The air force would launch intensive airstrikes against targets across Lebanon and the IDF's ground forces would fight battles on Lebanese soil. Many Israelis would be killed – civilians and soldiers alike – as well as many Lebanese civilians, since Hizbollah has deployed its missiles in the heart of population centers. Many buildings used to store missiles would also be destroyed and the scenes of destruction would be powerful. The international community would not be able to turn a blind eye to it and would point an angry finger at Israel.
The truth is that it is hard to envisage any such operation enjoying the support and agreement of Israelis – many of whom would be targeted by Hizbollah rockets. Even if the government was able to convince Israelis that the war was just, the international community would be highly critical. It would not allow Israel to continue fighting for very long.
A preemptive attack against Hizbollah, therefore, is something that should be kept to one side and only used under exceptional circumstances. It is highly tempting to strike the first blow against Hizbollah, but the government and the defense establishment must think twice, three times or more before doing so."
JUST NOT LIEBERMAN: Writing in Maariv, Shlomo Shamir says that Avigdor Lieberman must not be allowed to remain as foreign minister – if Israel is serious about improving its relationship with the international community in general and the White House in particular.
"The good news is that Naftali Bennett has dropped his demand to be appointed foreign minister in the next government. The slightly less good news is that Avigdor Lieberman will, it seems, remain in that office. Bennett is better equipped than Lieberman to fill that role. He is better educated and he speaks better English. He can express himself better and he has more energy. He is also a religious Jews and is utterly dedicated to the idea of the Greater Land of Israel.
As foreign minister, Bennett would have been better able to explain to the United Nations, to Washington and to other Western governments why the two-state solution is a ridiculous idea. Bennett would have been capable of explaining to the international community that there is no chance of Israel reaching an agreement with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future. Bennett would have proudly and confidently stood up before the General Assembly and told representative of every country in the world – with the innocent smile of a good Jewish boy – to leave Israel the hell alone.
It is precisely because of these talents that Bennett's decision not to pursue the foreign ministry post has averted a diplomatic disaster, coupled with a rapid deterioration in Israel's international standing. But allowing Lieberman to remain in his position is not just a sure-fire recipe for diplomatic disaster in the future, it is not just a mistake – it is political masochism.
There are no signs of an imminent thawing in relations between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The diplomatic blockade of Israel is getting tighter and the European Union is already talking about imposing sanctions. Allowing Lieberman to remain as Israel's top diplomat is like appointing a pyromaniac as fire chief.
There's no need even to speculate about what we can expect from Lieberman as foreign minister. He showed us exactly what he is made of in the five years that he has been in the position. He has done nothing positive of note and has made no significant decisions. His visits to Western capitals have not yielded any political fruits and have not changed their critical attitude or warmed up their cool policies toward Jerusalem. His occasional visits to UN headquarters in New York have been seen as diplomatic catastrophes.
Israel can expect a tough few months on the diplomatic front. The new government has a golden opportunity to restore the Foreign Ministry to its position as the most influential ministry in the government and to place it front and center of Israel's diplomatic battles. Lieberman, who has also lost some of his domestic political clout, is simply not up to these challenges.
While it is true that Israel's foreign policy is determined by the prime minister, leaving Lieberman to serve alongside him as foreign minister sends a message to the world that it can expect very little of Israel – especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The job of rectifying Israel's tattered relationship with the White House is Netanyahu's. In order to succeed, he needs a foreign minister with a certain type of personality serving alongside him: someone moderate, who knows what it means to be conciliatory. Lieberman just doesn't fit the bill.
Leaving Lieberman in the Foreign Ministry also sends a message that Jerusalem is unaware of the complex challenges that it has to face. Most of all, it relays a message of indifference. Israel needs to work with the White House, to have good working relations with the European Union and the Security Council and, most importantly, it has to tiptoe its way through a diplomatic minefield and safeguard vital national interests.
If anyone in Israel seriously believes that Lieberman is the right man for the job, let him stand up now. No one? I thought not."
MINOCRACY: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben-Dror Yemini says that the government Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems likely to install will not represent the will of the people or the will of most members of the Knesset.
"The die appears to have been cast. Israel is in for a narrow government – narrow and problematic, to be more precise. It won't offer that 'expression of the will of the people' that opponents of a national unity government have been going on about endlessly for the past month. A narrow government is not a democracy. It's a 'minocracy,' in which the minority imposes its will on the majority.
The majority, including most Likud voters too, is in favor of sharing the burden. The majority, including most Likud voters too, oppose the Nahari Law, which required local authorities to fund non-state, ultra-Orthodox schools that don't teach core curriculum subjects, thereby encouraging Haredization and separatism at the taxpayers' expense. The majority, including most Likud voters too, doesn't want the government of Israel to promote the nightmare vision of 'one large state.' But this is what is about to come crashing down on the heads of the majority, which is opposed to the rule of the minority.
It's not just the people. It's the Knesset too. There's no parliamentary majority for a significant portion of the government guidelines that are likely to be adopted. After all, most of the Kulanu party's Knesset members are freaking out these days. Yes, the world of politics requires compromises. But we're not dealing here with compromises. We're dealing with capitulation. With respect to two fundamental issues, the Nationality Law and laws related to the judiciary, they demanded and received a veto right. But where do they stand when it comes to the issue of sharing the burden? Where do they stand when it comes to the Nahari Law? After all, your voices, distinguished Knesset members, can and should be the voice of the majority – not of the left, or of the right, but of a majority that represents the Zionist and national interest.
This is your moment of truth. But when it comes to these issues, you have disappeared and gone silent. You won't be the only ones to pay the price. The entire country will pay."
TALKING TO HAMAS: Writing in Haaretz, Amos Harel comments on the reported secret talks between Israel and Hamas and says that the organization's political wing is in favor of dialogue, while its military wing opposes it.
"Far from the public’s eye, negotiations are happening that could, under certain conditions, effect an important change on the Palestinian front. The indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on a long-term cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, which have been reported primarily in the Arab media, are ultimately likely to produce an agreement. Such a deal, if achieved, would significantly affect the balance of power among Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and could also affect the close ties between Israel and Egypt.
The talks have been conducted intermittently for months. Media reports say numerous intermediaries are involved, including officials from the United Nations, Europe and Qatar. Thus the talks are happening via several different channels, with only partial coordination among them.
The goal is to extract a commitment to a humanitarian cease-fire from Hamas, perhaps accompanied by third-party guarantees. Hamas would promise to refrain from any hostilities against Israel for a given period, possibly three to five years. In exchange, Israel would significantly ease its partial blockade on Gaza and take other steps to help Gaza’s economy. Later – though this seems unlikely – Israel might even reconsider ideas it has rejected in the past, like letting a seaport be built in Gaza under external supervision.
Such a deal could appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because it would enable him to portray last summer’s war in Gaza as a long-term achievement instead of a highly controversial, unfinished job. Just as former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert retroactively defended a much worse war, the Second Lebanon War of 2006, by boasting of the quiet on the northern border since then, Netanyahu could retroactively justify the Gaza war on similar grounds and say Hamas’ agreement to a long-term cease-fire proved that Israel won.
An indirect deal wouldn’t require Netanyahu to make any major concessions like recognizing Hamas or ceding territory. Moreover, it would enable him to outflank PA President Mahmoud Abbas and rebut some of the international criticism of his lack of movement on the Palestinian front. And if Netanyahu thinks tensions with Hizbollah might lead to war in the coming years, a long-term cease-fire in Gaza would temporarily relieve the army of a headache and let it focus on the far more dangerous enemy to the north.
Hamas’ political leadership in Gaza apparently favors a deal. After three military conflicts against Israel in less than six years, each of which wreaked devastation in Gaza, it seems unlikely that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his colleagues would want another round anytime soon. Khaled Mish'al, the Qatar-based head of Hamas’ political wing, also seems to have moderated the hardline positions he took during the war a bit; this might be connected to the rapprochement between Hamas’ political wing and Saudi Arabia.
At the moment, Hamas seems readier to accept a deal than Israel is. Some Israeli defense officials think it’s better to continue the status quo, with minor changes, than to tie Israel’s hands with rigid obligations.
But in any case, numerous obstacles remain. The PA objects vehemently, fearing a deal would bolster Hamas at its expense and perpetuate the freeze in its own talks with Israel; this has been reflected in the West Bank’s negative press coverage of the emerging deal. Ramallah accuses Hamas of abandoning the demand for a solution to the Palestinian problem and of acquiescing in the separation of Gaza from the West Bank.
Egypt, which recently deferred legal proceedings for declaring Hamas an illegal terrorist organization, also remains skeptical of Hamas’ intentions.
But the principle obstacle is Hamas’ military wing. On Wednesday, the Israeli media reported that military wing leader Mohammed Deif, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt during last summer’s war, had resumed full-time activity. Deif dragged Israel and Hamas into the last conflict by planning a tunnel attack near Kerem Shalom in early July, then escalating after the army thwarted the attack.
Since the military wing is currently at loggerheads with the political leadership and has also renewed its ties to Iran, one can confidently assume it isn’t enthusiastic about the idea of a long-term truce. Thus, as the negotiations progress, the chances of the military wing launching attacks on Israel, in an effort to thwart it, increase.
The military wing is working hard to restore its operational capabilities, which suffered substantial damage during the war and have also been harmed by Egypt’s clampdown on arms smuggling to Gaza. Though Hamas is now churning out its own rockets in Gaza, they don’t match the capabilities of the arms it used to smuggle from Iran. But rebuilding its network of attack tunnels has proved easier, and it’s reasonable to assume Hamas will try to use them if another war breaks out."
STABILITY NOW: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Gil Hoffman comments on the ongoing coalition negotiations and says that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is taking measures to ensure that his fourth government is also his most stable.
"Since 2003, whenever governments in Israel are formed, the coalition negotiations have taken place at Ramat Gan’s Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel. Delegations from the parties make statements to the press with great fanfare upon entering the negotiating room, and again when they depart. Journalists would wait there for hours, hoping for headlines.
Sometimes, the real news was actually happening elsewhere. For instance in 2003, though coalition teams from the National Religious Party and Shinui came to Kfar Hamaccabiah, their leaders actually negotiated a deal at the home of Ehud Olmert, who had just left his job as Jerusalem mayor to return to national politics.
This time, there was no facade of facilitating the work of the press, and no apparent attempt to trick the media. Journalists were for the most part just ignored. The talks took place at the Knesset, just down the hall from the reporters’ offices. But there was not much point in coming to the building. When deals were reached, the reporters who waited around all day for the signing ceremonies were not even invited in. The event was recorded by the party spokespeople and sent out later. The coalition negotiating teams did not say much to the media before or after negotiations. The parties have defied precedent by not sending the coalition agreements to the press, and the elements that were leaked have been relatively dry.
The Likud negotiating team of MKs Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron can be described as a geek squad, in the best sense of the term. They are smart, hard-working, efficient, committed and unapologetically boring; Elkin even boasted about working on the coalition talks for as much as 22 hours a day. They are not good at making headlines, which could be vexing to the press. But they could be successful in achieving what the public wants – which is stability.
The last government supplied plenty of headlines. The infighting began before the government was even formed; there were alliances, betrayals and plenty of revenge. But there was no stability, and consequently, the coalition broke down less than 21 months after it was formed. Netanyahu’s team and the coalition partners are trying to learn from past mistakes and return the stability of the prime minister’s previous term, which lasted four years from 2009 to 2013. They have taken several steps to achieve that vaunted stability.
The aforementioned mix of ignoring and boring the press is step toward stability No. 1. As a case in point, Channel 2’s star reporter Amit Segal tweeted the following in Hebrew as coalition deals were reached with Kulanu and United Torah Judaism Wednesday, 'Drama at the Knesset: An agreement reached orally in November 2014 [with UTJ] was officially signed at the end of April 2015.' He also tweeted, 'Drama at the Knesset 2: A man who declared in December 2014 that he would be finance minister and a man who promised him the Finance Ministry in March 2015 agree as May 2015 approaches on an appointment as finance minister.' And finally, 'Stay with us for even more drama: The foreign minister will surprisingly be appointed foreign minister and two parties that said they would sign with Likud signed with Likud. So many heart attacks in one round of negotiations.'
That cynicism is a sign of the Likud’s success. Political journalists thrive on the very instability that the coalition talks are intended to avert. The negotiators serve the public – not them – so if Segal is bored, they just might be doing something right.
The second step toward stability is to keep the finance minister happy. Finance minister is a very important job, especially in a government with no diplomatic aspirations and plenty of work to do on the socioeconomic front, so autonomy is appreciated by those who hold the post. The best recent example was the government that was formed in the aforementioned coalition negotiations of 2003. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon not only appointed Netanyahu finance minister, he promised him complete freedom to implement whatever policies he wished.
Netanyahu was so satisfied and so busy implementing his policies that he did everything possible to avoid leaving the government, even as it was passing the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip that he claimed to oppose. He did eventually quit, but too late to prevent the evacuation.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon had every reason to smile when he signed the deal – besides the fact that he smiles all the time anyway. He sought the posts, the tools and the freedom to implement all his proposed reforms, and he got what he wanted.
Another element required for stability is a lack of prime ministerial aspirations among coalition partners. The first thing that doomed the last government was a statement by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid the day after the election that he expected to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister. From then on, Netanyahu did not trust him, nor did he offer him much help to ensure his success.
When Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett displayed their own delusions of grandeur, it created even more instability. This time, Bennett and Lieberman are entering the government badly bruised by an election in which Netanyahu showed them who is boss. Kahlon could be prime minister someday, but only if he is a great success as finance minister, and he may have to return to the Likud.
History has proven that it is also easier to achieve stability when haredi parties are part of the government. Netanyahu knows that, and that is why he was willing to pay their asking price despite screaming headlines accusing him of giving up the store. Netanyahu is as secular as it gets. But he worships on the altar of political quiet, and that is what UTJ and Shas will give him.
Having alternative coalitions at hand also helps. It is not clear whether Netanyahu has that, but he did insist on including a clause in the coalition agreement that could assist in the creation of a national unity government with the Zionist Union later on. That could be enough to achieve the deterrence necessary to keep people like Bennett and Lieberman in line.
The final step toward stability is electoral reform. Netanyahu’s associates reiterated this week that the prime minister intended to enact reforms that will strengthen the largest parties, and ease the political extortion and horse-trading that mar coalition talks.
All six of those steps could help bring about a government that will not last its entire term - which ends in November 2019 - but could endure far longer than many are expecting. But Netanyahu needs to be careful not to go too far. In the past, he has harmed himself by letting his power go to his head and become his own worst enemy.
Reports of him considering keeping the communications portfolio for himself and taking steps to limit an already weakened media could backfire. A bored media is a recipe for stability; an angry press could cause chaos. Netanyahu will have to tread that thin line successfully to build a government that can last."
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