Monday, May 7, 2012

No New Elections Needed In Israel

In a stunning turn of events in Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima opposition chairman MK Shaul Mofaz have come to a last minute agreement of unity thwarting efforts by Israel's Labor Party to get new elections that would try to unseat Netanyahu's coalition government.

Up until just yesterday Labor Party members were feeling very confident that they would have the necessary votes to unseat Netanyahu. However, what they were evidently unaware of was the private two weeks of negotiating going on between the Prime Minister and Mofaz.

This isn't the first time that opposition parties have underestimated the PM's ability to side-step efforts to bring him and his government down.

Mofaz's Kadima party stands to gain a lot from this new agreement. He will likely get appointed to Deputy Prime Minister and have control over Israel's Homeland Security known as the Homefront Defense Ministry or a position as a minister without portfolio. Netanyahu has also promised Mofaz his support in replacing the Tal Law. This 10-year old rule of law in Israel has allowed ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to avoid national military service in lieu of their orthodox rabbinic training.

What Netanyahu gets from this union will be Kadima's much needed votes on issues in the Knesset that are of supreme importance to Netanyahu. Kadima will vote with Likud until the close of its Knesset term which concludes November 2013.

Labor, Meretz and many other of the opposition parties are frustrated and angry, especially in light of the fact that only two weeks ago Mofaz said he would never sit down and negotiate a union between Kadima and Labor. Zahava Gal-On, Meretz chairwoman called it nothing more than a "dirty trick," while Labor Party Chairwoman MK Shelly Yechimovich used somewhat harsher words calling the new union nothing more than “an alliance of cowards.”

Netanyahu also received criticism from members of his own Likud Party. Some were wondering why they were throwing a life-jacket to an opposition party that was almost drowning and felt it would have served Likud's interest better to chance elections in September then to give Kadima CPR. Polls have been showing that Netanyahu would have likely won the election, yet those same polls showed that he may have had a difficult time amassing a coalition government as late as September, which is at the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. Netanyahu likely saw this hand-out gesture to Kadima as a guarantee of remaining PM and having a unified coalition government today instead of chancing it 4 months from now.

One of the criticisms is the likelihood that under this new agreement Ehud Barak will probably remain on as Defense Minister causing further delays in bringing the West Band settlement issue to a close.

However, not all members of the Knesset shared the view of the opposition. Interior Minister and Shas Party chairman Eli Yishai welcomed the agreement as a step in the right direction especially at a time when Israel has the cloud of Iran's nuclear ambition over its head.

My take on all of this is good for the Prime Minister. Anything that helps to keep Netanyahu in power at this extremely crucial time in Israel's history is a plus. The PM is a realist that sees the world as it really is, knows the region better then anyone alive today, having been educated and lived extensively in the West knows the pulse and barometer of the American thermometer and has stood toe to toe and his ground with Vladimir Putin, Russia's recently reelected leader. I cannot think of anyone more qualified to be Israel's Prime Minister and it would be a travesty to have him removed simply because the Labor Party is looking for a power grab at this delicate time. Shelly Yacimovich, Labor Party leader, may be a capable politician, but she certainly isn't ready to take on what is required to fill that chair at this time.

With this Likud-Kadima coalition Israel has been given another 18 months of breathing room.

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