Now I and many like me will get a chance to consolidate our vote, as Netanyahu put it last night—you’ll only need one ballot for both parties.
Back to Zehava Gal-On – she and the rest of the politicians on the field have been transformed as if by a magic wand into yesterday’s news. Remember the poll results from Thursday morning, predicting that a centrist party headed by disgraced former PM Ehud Olmert would tie the Likud? Yesterday’s news. The math has become almost as simple as the math of American presidential elections: are you aware that there’s a very talented former governor of New Mexico named Gary Earl Johnson running for President in November? No, because he’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he’s a Libertarian and so he doesn’t really exist.
Does Zehava Gal-On exist after last night’s announcement? In its 1992 heyday, Meretz had 12 MKs and was a major partner in the late Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor-led government (Remember Oslo?). Down to three members, Gal-On’s party no longer matters, other than assigning funny nicknames to things.
But while Meretz Chairperson Gal-On was condemning the move in familiar terms—though with the added glass-screeching effect, Shelly Yachimovitch, Chairperson of the 8-MK Labor party was absolutely livid. She was being interviewed live almost simultaneously by the news anchors of all the news editions in Israel, and she looked pale, as if the color had drained from her face – and she spat her words in a rage that she just could not conceal.
Let’s face it, the Biberman duo had just pulled the rug from under Yachimovitch’s best laid plans. The polls were giving her as many as 18 seats, which could make her a player in a center-based Likud coalition government. Without Liberman in the picture, Labor—as it had done so many times before—could provide Netanyahu with stability, away from the madding right-wing. A Likud-Labor-Shas coalition, supported by 6 Haredi MKs would have been the perfect combo for improved relations with the Obama White House (should it happen), re-opening the 2-state solution talks and so expanding markets in Europe which have been closing down on account of the settlements, and basically freezing the settlements movement, if not worse.
Now Yachomovitch has been deprived, perhaps for a very long time, of a chance to control the center. With Biberman essentially owning the right-of-center block, the remnants of Kadima, as well as newcomer Yair Lapid, have clear dibs on the center. Lapid last night repeated time and again that he had no interest in going into a partnership with Yachimovitch because she is the left and he is the center. Lapid did not exclude a partnership with Olmert et al, but that would clearly come at the expense of Labor.
Shelly Yachimovitch and Labor may have been swept back to the cheap seats they have been occupying for some time now, and the dream of 18 seats may remain just that, a nice, short-lived dream.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai from Shas, fresh from the brawl with rival Aryeh Deri that has just ended in a tie and a triumvirate partnership (with Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias), told the TV news folks that his party could only benefit from Biberman. The Shas voters, he argued at one point (I’m paraphrasing), seeing as Likud’s victory is guaranteed, would feel free to vote their real interest, the socially-conscious, Sephardi, religious Shas. He could be right. But there’s no doubt that the trend could go both ways, and typical Shas voters would feel attracted by the sheer size of the new juggernaut.
The most amusing talking head on the news circuit last night was Beit Yehudi / NRP chairman wannabe Zevulun Orlev, who claimed that his party was the biggest winner from Hurricane Biberman. He made an argument similar to the one made by Shas, about his voters feeling free to vote for the party that truly represents their interests and their soul – a touch of Harlem politics there – but history so far has not borne him out. The National Religious voter prefers the large right-wing parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteni, over the various NRP factions. The fact is, it would be very hard for Orlev and his partners to make the case that voting for them, without the guarantee of getting into a future coalition, beats voting for the next rulers of this country.
Long live Biberman!