No sooner did Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to agree on a ceasefire with Hamas become public – allegedly it was made out of fear that a full-scale war with the inevitable casualties would cost him many votes in the next general election – when Avigdor Lieberman (Evet to his family and friends) announced that he would resign as minister of defense in protest against the prime minister’s “surrendering to terror,” i.e., agreeing to a cessation of hostilities, however temporary.
Reflecting the stance of Israelis living along the Gaza border and opposed to the ceasefire, Lieberman wanted the militarily vastly superior Israel to force Hamas into submission instead of a truce. As defense minister he may have had the backing of the generals. He’ll leave his post in a couple of days and probably make sure that his party now votes against the government, or at least abstains, which may deprive the prime minister of a majority in the Knesset or reduce it ominously.
Lieberman’s calculation is probably that the prime minister will now be seen as indecisive in the face of Hamas, a relatively weak enemy on Israel’s southern border. People would then wonder what he’d not do if he had to confront Hezbollah in the North, said to be a much more formidable force. Voters may, therefore, perhaps conclude that the time has come to elect an even more hawkish leader. Netanyahu may have lost his reputation as Mr. Security. Even though Lieberman’s party would never have enough seats to make him prime minister, an election may strengthen his position.
Another critic of Netanyahu in the cabinet is Naftali Bennett who aspires to be even more hawkish than Lieberman. Bennett has already demanded to be appointed minister of defense in place of Lieberman. This might be a further blow to Netanyahu. Rejecting Bennett would definitely force an election and, as a result, reduce the number of mandates of the prime minister’s party. Therefore, Netanyahu may try to keep the portfolio for himself. But as he’s already minister of foreign affairs and minister of communication, he may have to shed at least one of these two.
Of the snippets of information that reached the public, it was obvious that the relationship between ministers must have been toxic. The most senior positions may not have been held by competent people but because of coalition politics. It seems that Netanyahu thrived in that atmosphere, for he could divide and rule holding his nose when dealing with Lieberman, Bennett and perhaps other cabinet colleagues. It was obvious then, and it’s even more obvious now, that this was bad for the country and that it couldn’t last indefinitely. The bubble has now burst. In addition to having to face enemies from without, politicians will now also have to contend with adversaries from within.
Netanyahu’s Likud may still have more seats in the next Knesset than any other, but, of course, it won’t be able to govern without Lieberman and Bennett, both of whose parties are to the right of Likud. So Likud may decide to shed Netanyahu; there’s no shortage of individuals eager to replace him.
Though Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid is doing well – unlike Labour and its few allies – he’s not likely to be Israel’s next prime minister.
All this means that Israel is entering a period of internal uncertainty created by right-wingers trying to out-hawk each other. Though the departure of Netanyahu might be welcome not only by foes but also by friends, the alternatives may soon make us nostalgic for the good old Bibi days.
Jerusalem 15.11.18 Dow Marmur