I tend to think betting in general is stupid, but yesterday I made a bet with intrepid blogger The Camel’s Nose that the unity government Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put together in May won’t last out the week. Let’s be honest: Bibi’s little experiment isn’t working out. The reasons columnists and analysts gave for this project – building a consensus for bombing Iran/dismantling settlements/passing universal conscription law – haven’t exactly panned out. In fact, they’ve all gloriously backfired.
TCN does a pretty good job arguing that the coalition will still be intact on July 8, but two can play this game. No need for Freudian meta-psychoanalysis here: the facts speak for themselves. Here is why the Mofaz-Bibi bromance (or “man-date,” if you keep up with memes) is about to become the shortest-lived government in Israel’s history – after Golda Meir’s botched 85-day, post-Yom Kippur War mess.
1. Bibi’s balancing act will be his downfall. Many lauded the prime minister’s political “masterstroke” back in May, but this characterization of Bibi as a cunning and resourceful tactician is plain wrong. Second-term Bibi faces the same challenge as first-term Bibi. Will he make a breakthrough at the expense of his right-wing base, or placate his loyal minions? Bibi is a creature of habit: In 1997, he reneged on the Hebron Agreement, and we know how it ended in 1999 when he failed to implement the Wye River Memorandum – an election that gave Israel Ehud Barak. Since this unity government took office, Bibi has reneged on two things he supposedly needed MK Shaul Mofaz and Kadima’s Knesset votes for: stopping settlement expansion and replacing the unconstitutional Tal Law, which exempts ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from mandatory service in the IDF. Instead, Bibi softened the blow of dismantling the Ulpana settlement by greenlighting the construction of 551 new housing units in the West Bank, and chucked the Keshev Committee, a Kadima-Likud initiative tasked with finding a replacement for the Tal Law. Bibi the Likudnik is back in action. Unfortunately, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi already withdrew from the committee, and Shas and UTJ aren’t too happy with the proposed quotas and penalties. Of course, Mofaz and Kadima are fuming as well. It’s only a matter of time before this government’s coalition partners strike out and vote to dissolve the Knesset.
2. Mofaz has seen the light. And that light is “leader of the opposition.” Mofaz, who I saw a couple of weeks ago, thought that a unity government would be Kadima’s big chance for post-Sharon resurgence. He thought there was room for compromise and a genuine willingness on Bibi’s part to resume negotiations with the Palestinians. But Bibi is, after all, King Bibi, and he isn’t changing. Mofaz is fed up, and making concessions on behalf of the Prime Minister isn’t going to win him any points with his own party. If he really wants to save his political career, he will withdraw from the coalition and become the leader of the opposition.
3. Cutting losses and taking names. This government may be a marriage of convenience, but let’s be real here – Kadima voters and parliamentarians don’t exactly like Bibi. Sure, Mofaz may be “popular” with the Israeli public, but if Bibi does “go to great lengths to find a deal with Mofaz,” as TCN has suggested, he will most likely lose the right-wing base that handed him the premiership in 2009. If it’s between having a somewhat smaller constiuency and having no constiuency at all, Bibi would do better to cut his losses and scrap his unity government. Public opinion may be important, but no one’s going to vote for Bibi in the next elections if he does make a deal with Mofaz.