President Barack Obama will cancel his scheduled March 20 visit to Israel if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not from a coalition government before then, Israel’s Channel 10 television reported Thursday night.
It based its report on unnamed sources, but it makes sense because President Obama would have little to do in Israel except to bask in the sun at the Dead Sea if there is no government.
If Netanyahu fails to complete his coalition puzzle, Obama privately might gloat, considering the Prime Minister’s blatant grandstanding for Republican president candidate Mitt Romney in the recent US election campaign.
Netanyahu’s first deadline for forming a coalition is this Saturday night. If he still is empty handed, President Shimon Peres can grant him a final one-time only 14-day extension. That brings him up to March 16, four days before President Obama is scheduled to arrive.
If there is no government by then, Peres can throw the ball in the court of Yair Lapid, whose Future (Yesh Atid) party won the second largest number of Knesset seats, or simply call new elections.
Either prospect is unlikely, but anything is possible in Israeli politics.
The Obama administration figured a March 20 arrival date would give the Prime Minister more than enough time to get his political act together. So far, it has been dead wrong.
Netanyahu tried throwing a curve ball at all of the parties dickering for Cabinet positions or acceptance of their principles. Instead of closing a deal with one of the largest parties first, he took in the hapless Tzipi Livni and her party of a total of six Knesset Members. Livni vowed in the election campaign she would not sit in a government with Netanyahu, but she caved into the offer of being Justice Minister and de facto “Minister of the Peace Process.”
The curve ball turned into a boomerang.
If he thought his ploy would scare the other parties to fall into line, he was wrong. He had not yet understood that Lapid and Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party, really meant what they said and will not sacrifice their platforms and promises for a fancy Cabinet portfolio.
Netanyahu messed himself up by putting Livni in charge of the peace process, because Bennett told him “no way.” Without Bennett and Lapid, Netanyahu is up the creek, because he cannot form a majority only with Livni, the Haredi parties and the two-seat Kadima party. Labor party’s chair Shelly Yechimovich also has principles, the main one being not to join a Netanyahu-led government
Netanyahu has squeezed himself into a tight corner. Lapid’s chief negotiator David Shimron made it clear Thursday night that there is no room in a coalition government for the Future party with Haredim.
If the Prime Minister wants to show Obama who’s in charge in Israel, he has no choice but to admit that Bennett and Lapid are in charge.