By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
What seemed absolutely certain two weeks ago is much less so today: though it’s still likely that Binyamin Netanyahu will head a coalition after the elections on January 22 and thus continue as Prime Minister, other possibilities have now emerged.
The leaders of three centrist parties – Sheli Yachimovitch of Labour that until the 1970s ruled Israel; Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah (not that new: it includes former Kadima politicians and two disgruntled former chairmen of Labour); and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid who has followed in his late father’s footsteps by creating a largely middle-class protest party– met the other day to discuss ways of stopping Netanyahu.
There’re even rumours that President Peres, the old fox of Israeli politics, is furtively behind it, perhaps believing that an alternative to Netanyahu could make peace with the Palestinians before they’re overwhelmed by Hamas.
Pundits ascribe the changed scenery to mistakes that Netanyahu made when he thought that he could capture the political right by announcing controversial inroads into Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and even seeking to discredit Naftali Bennet, the golden boy of the reconstituted right-wing Habayit Hayehudi.
What a couple of weeks ago seemed brilliant moves by Netanyahi are now described as errors of judgment. Annoying the international community by heralding settlement expansion didn’t bring in votes at home. Attacking Bennet also appears to have had the opposite effect: he’s now soaring in the polls.
The various reports on corruption and unbecoming conduct in high places haven’t helped. Not only is there collateral damage in the resignation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman after his indictment which may now be sharpened because of new evidence. There’s also the new report about the toxic relationship between the Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and the then Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. There’re even oblique hints of undue financial “benefits” by the Prime Minister himself.
The most ominous indicator of Netanyahu’s problems may be reflected in the announcement by a spokesman for Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (it had come together with Netanyahu’s Likud to form a joint list in the forthcoming elections) that the marriage will be over as soon as the results have been declared.
Though Lieberman has denied it, some tend to believe more the announcement than the denial. There’re serious observers, notably the editor of Ha’aretz, who believe that this suggests that Yisrael Beiteinu may eye the anti-Netanyahu coalition. This would be consistent with Lieberman’s anti-Orthodox stance. Not only is he himself secular but many of his supporters who’ve roots in the formerSoviet Union aren’t recognized as Jews by the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) rabbinate. He needs to deliver something tangible to them, which he really hasn’t been able to as long as the haredim are in the government. The alternative coalition would probably seek to exclude the Orthodox parties.
However, despite all the above speculations it’s still likely that Netanyahu will stay in office. Optimists hope that, should that happen, the centre will be sufficiently strong to make him retract some or much of the threats to build in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Also the next Obama administration will be tougher and thus perhaps increase the prospect of resumed peace negotiations with the Palestinians.