Israeli Politics

Israeli Politics

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

There is a curious question circulating right now in Israel since Kadima has bolted from the big tent coalition that Bibi created less than 80 days ago. People cannot understand why Netanyahu did not just go to elections as he had planned and why did he even bother with this grand coalition charade with Mofaz and Kadima?

Bibi was quite literally hours away from calling for new elections when the deal with Mofaz was struck. The general assumption had been that Netanyahu would have won the largest bloc of seats on a September 4 election and that alone would have increased the size of his governing coalition, without Kadima. It also seemed quite likely that Kadima’s seats in the Knesset would have been dramatically reduced. 

Leaving aside what Mofaz’s motivations might have been, it is unclear what gains Bibi assumed he would achieve. It does seem, given Kadima’s withdrawal from the coalition, that Kadima’s days are numbered. Some Kadima MK’s have already returned to Likud and more are trying to negotiate a protected spot on the party’s next election list. (This might move Likud a bit more to the center.)

On the substantive policy level, the big tent coalition did not agree on a Tal Law proposal, did not complete the budget, did not adopt a new settlement policy or renew negotiations with the Palestinians, and did not institute electoral reform. It now appears that the Tal Law dispute which was the public action which broke the coalition agreement, will expire on August 1 as the High Court had ordered. The Knesset will go off on its summer recess, to address this matter in fall. There is no visible movement whatsoever on settlements or in negotiations with the Palestinians– despite the flurry of activity from Washington officials in Jerusalem urging movement; or on electoral reform. In light of the time pressure, a budget will be pushed through so that the Knesset can recess on schedule.  This leaves Bibi, Barak, and the security cabinet to address Iran and Syria this summer without needing to please Mofaz and his more center-left colleagues.

All of this still leaves the question remaining of why did Bibi bother and what did he prove?  Netanyahu demonstrated that he does respect the potential fickleness of the Israeli electorate especially in a short campaign, and therefore a delay until after the American elections at least was desirable.  He certainly demonstrated once again that the Haredim can block whatever they dislike, so Israeli politicians continue to be beholden to the religious right. Finally, Bibi tested his ability to stand up to the right within his own Likud party and he probably blinked.

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