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The Morning After: Israel’s Political System Shaken, Stirred, Realigned

The two winners of last night's unprecedented maneuver, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his new deputy and coalition partner, former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The two winners of last night's unprecedented maneuver, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his new deputy and coalition partner, former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90

The stealth move Monday night by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz has left everyone in Israel’s political arena reeling. First, the very idea that such a game-changing deal could be kept secret in Israel was shocking. It served to remind everyone of the military combat background of both leaders.

And then there was the realization that by joining forces the two have almost accomplished the oldest dream of every Israeli premier since David Ben Gurion – to rule without partners.

Today, a Likud and Kadima coalition relies on 55 of the 61 seats needed for a majority government.

But in reality, Kadima is “Likud light,” having been formed in 2005 by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with Likud members who were willing to support Sharon’s plan to uproot the Jews of the Gaza strip, dubbed the “unilateral disengagement plan.”

In that sense, the Likud-Kadima coalition is more reunification than realignment. Mofaz et al are more lost children coming home than political foes overcoming their differences.

Back in December of 2005, then Defense Minister and Likud MK Shaul Mofaz sent personal letters to party members who were defecting to Ariel Sharon’s new party, begging them to return home. Later Mofaz would be ridiculed for the memorable slogan he included in his personal letter, “You don’t desert your home,” because shortly after coining it, Mofaz himself up and deserted that very home.

Seven years later it appears that all is forgotten.

Incidentally, Shaul Mofaz is fast becoming the Mitt Romney of Israeli politics, famous for making bombastic announcements which he disregards in a matter of days. Just before the Kadima primaries in March, Mofaz wrote on his Facebook page: “Listen well, I will not join Bibi’s government. Not today, not tomorrow and not after I become the head of Kadima on March 28. It is a bad, failing and disconnected government, and Kadima under my stewardship will replace it in the coming elections. Clear enough?”

Clear indeed.

The new deal awards the Kadima returnees significant legislative powers.

Under the section “Sharing the burden of military service,” the agreement states:

“The Parties undertake to enact, by July 31, 2012, a law regulating fair and just distribution of the burden of military service among the various segments of the population in Israel, in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling. Clear goals will be set for Haredi recruitment with progressive increases over the years. The bill will be written by a team from Kadima.”

Under the section “Correcting the system of government,” the agreement reads:

“The Parties undertake to fundamentally change the system of government in Israel, establishing a system of governance which will enhance governmental stability and effectiveness. Among other things, the new system will allow a prime minister to fulfill his agenda as determined by the voter, to create continuity of government, enhance the capacity for long-term planning and the protection of the public good.”

Under the section “The political process,” the agreement reads:

Both sides agree that the government will act to renew the political process and to advance negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Both sides agree on the importance of preserving the State of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state, and on the importance of maintaining defensible borders.”

This third segment essentially embraces the two-state solution, which is bad news for the Jews in settlements east of the security fence. It means the beginning of a countdown towards the evacuation of thousands of Jews, and should that undertaking appear unrealistic, many settlers recalled today that Shaul Mofaz, serving as Sharon’s Defense Minister, was the enforcer in the removal of thousands of Gush Katif’s Jews.

The immediate huge loser of this move is Prime Minister wannabe Yair Lapid, who – before last night’s earthquake – was projected to gain between 11 and 12 seats in the coming elections, as newbie center parties have been doing in Israeli politics since 1977.

Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, on Tuesday morning told Israel’s Army Radio that it is clear that Yair Lapid is the big loser of the new move. “He was already revving up his engine and saw himself in the Knesset,” Elkin mocked.

Lapid’s Facebook page offered this entry by the disappointed proto politician:

“What you saw today is exactly the old politics, dingy and ugly, which the time has come to kick out of our lives. Politics of seats instead of principles, of jobs instead of the public good, of interest groups instead of the whole country. They think now they will play for time and we’ll forget, but they are wrong. This disgusting political alliance will bury all its members under its ruins.”

But while the damage to Lapid’s dreams adds comic relief to the story, the new coalition deal means decidedly sobering news for Israel’s two major religious camps – the Haredim and the Religious Zionist settlement movement.

Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh told Kol Israel this morning that with the new coalition deal “Bibi has given his consent and commitment that he will be taking several historical steps: legislation to insure an equal share of the burden [code for Haredi conscription] by July; and by December introduce a change in the system of government. Those two things, plus negotiations with the Palestinians, are the principles that Kadima has insisted on."

Tirosh added cheerfully: "If all this is accomplished, it will be the best government in history."

President Shimon Peres - a staunch advocate of the two-state solution - congratulated Netanyahu when the latter called to updated him on his intent to establish a unity government, and told Netanyahu a national unity government is good for Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox parties appeared sledge-hammered this morning, as it is becoming clear that a major goal of the revamped government is to rewrite the "Tal Law" regulating Haredi military service, and to radically increase the percentage of young Haredi men being conscripted.

In addition, the government will have to introduce deficit-cutting budget legislation, which will have the most adverse effect on Israel's poor - mostly Arabs and Haredim. Even if the Haredi factions remain in a Likud-Kadima juggernaut coalition, their ability to extract concessions will be severely curtailed.

It was curious, then, when Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai was quick to express his approval of the new deal. Likewise Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who on Saturday had announced that his party no longer had an interest in staying in this coalition, released a statement in support of the deal which, effectively, turns him into a fifth wheel in Netanyahu's shiny new vehicle.

One MK who tried to turn her lemons into lemonade was Labor Party Chairperson Shelly Yachimovich, who became the new Knesset opposition leader following Mofaz's entry into the coalition government. Acknowledging this was a "dirty deal for the ages," Yechmovitch said, "In view of the final burial of Kadima, Labor is being given a rare and important opportunity to lead the opposition, which we will do with energy and conviction."

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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