<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
In an unexpected move last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called early elections for September of this year. However, in yet another surprising turn of events, Netanyahu, a member of the Likud party, reversed course and announced the formation of a new coalition government including Kadima. Kadima, a center-right party, split from Likud in 2005 as former prime minister Ariel Sharon sought to create a moderate political party that would free him of the more extreme right-wing positions found within Likud. This new political twist by Netanyahu has proven quite polarizing, with some relieved at the possibility of more governmental stability and others concerned about backdoor wheeling-and-dealing and the dilution of democratic opposition in the country.
The Jerusalem Post editorial certainly takes the first view: “There is nothing better for the State of Israel right now than a stable government that will survive its four-year-plus mandate. Early elections would have been an unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money and would have postponed long-awaited and much needed reforms, not to mention the disruption of multi-year ministerial planning and the delay of the passage of the two-year state budget for 2013-2014....The inevitable give and take that will unfold during the Knesset debate over the budget, election reform and the Tal Law replacement will be an eminently democratic process. And it will be made possible thanks to the deal clinched between Netanyahu and Mofaz.”
Jay Bushinsky, in an op-ed in the pages of the same newspaper, makes the argument that “The new Likud-Kadima combination could inject badly needed momentum into the moribund process of making peace with the Palestinians. It could encourage Netanyahu and the Likud’s relative moderates to make more enticing territorial concessions to them and at the same time stop the creeping annexation of the West Bank being promoted by Jewish extremists intent on settling there. If this results in the resumption of the bilateral negotiations that have been stymied for three years, Israel’s international standing would be substantially enhanced, many of its foreign critics would be silenced and its ability to mobilize multinational opposition to Iran’s effort to develop nuclear weapons would be reinforced.”
For outside observers, such as the Gulf News, diluting Likud and its far-right allies is a good thing: “[The coalition] with Kadima promises to make Israeli government's policies more secular…. The new alliance of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the centre-right Kadima party has given his exhausted coalition a new lease on life....This will dramatically improve Netanyahu's ability to shape legislation and set the political agenda, as the new broad base of the coalition, with seven parties, will dilute the power of any one faction....[Shaul Mofaz’s] fervently nationalist agenda make it an easy fit with Likud, but its willingness to promote a two-state peace deal puts it at odds with most of Likud and its other allies, which prefer to try to achieve Israel's security by force.”
However, not everyone was enthusiastic of the new developments. In an op-ed for Arutz Sheva, Asher Keren wonders “How can a Likud government join forces with an openly Leftist party such as Kadima? Certainly, the Likud voters never expected this when they cast their votes....Certainly the people that voted for Kadima would not have expected such a move from their elected representatives. Israeli democracy no longer really exists....The truth is that in order for democracy to exist, any democracy, the people must be vigilant; the people must demand that the government acts according to the desires of the people. Today, the opposite is the case…. It is time to wake up, to understand that the government needs us to rule. Without an obedient citizenry, the government is paralyzed.”
A similar sentiment is expressed by Haaretz’s Amir Oren, who believes Netanyahu’s actions signal the transformation of Israel “from democracy to an oligarchy…. These are self-styled lords of the manor who have power over civil and military sectors, and share the spoils of rule between themselves. The subjects can talk, but have no influence. Israel has been transformed from the only democracy in the region, to a democracy where power is held by only a few. Nothing will change during the next national elections, which have been postponed.”
Raanan Shaked takes to the pages of Yedioth Ahronoth and criticizes Kadima’s leader Shaul Mofaz: “Just like Ehud Barak before him, Mofaz performed a selfish, stinky scheme that allowed him to detach himself once and for all from this pesky notion of "elected public servant" and turn himself into a Netanyahu servant. And so, finally we saw the establishment of a unity government that will represent everyone, with the possible exception of that insignificant minority, you know, I'm forgetting their name — oh, yes. Israel's citizens; these pests. Who needs us anyway? In the view of the current Israeli political establishment, we are merely a needless mob that should garner no interest. It's better to just ignore us.”
Kadima’s decision to join the government leaves Labor as the main opposition party. The question now becomes whether Labor is up to the task, given the coalition government’s overwhelming representation in the Knesset. Haaretz’s Shlomo Avineri is not sure, but he does think the new developments present the party with an opportunity: “Now that the shadow of Kadima's not-so-efficient opposition has been lifted, Labor can leverage its situation despite the coalition's solid parliamentary majority and the featherweight opposition in the current Knesset. The question is whether Labor's leadership is up to the task....Whether the Labor Party sees itself as an alternative to Likud in the next elections, or as a partner in a coalition it does not head, it must now fashion the organizational tools that will allow public opinion to recognize it as speaking in a clear, unified voice.”
And then of course there is the unavoidable question of what any of this means for the prospects of the peace process with the Palestinians, as well as the possibility of an attack on Iran.
The answer to the latter of the two questions became clear this week: “‘With Shaul Mofaz in the government, all options regarding Iran are on the table,’ Minister of’ Defense Ehud Barak told IDF Radio (Galei Zahal)…. ‘The Iranians are continuing their plan to develop a nuclear weapon. The group of countries in talks with Iran should present a demand, which if accepted, will stop Iran's progress toward nuclear capability…. If the demands when entering the talks are what we believe — minimalist — even if Iran accepts them, it will still be able to develop a nuclear weapon. We therefore think that the demands should be changed. These demands are too little.’”
Finally, some believe that the inclusion of Kadima will moderate the government’s position on the two-state solution. As a result, their eyes are fixed on the equally-fractious Palestinian political landscape. The Daily Star editorial makes just that argument: “Benjamin Netanyahu’s abandonment of his early election and the revelation of a new coalition government have once again highlighted the need for the various Palestinian factions to form a cohesive front, and soon....Time is now definitely against the Palestinians if they hope to gain any concessions from the Israelis. With every passing day, more illegal settlements are built in Israel and, understandably, more and more Palestinians are becoming increasingly frustrated with stalled progress. On both sides, this atmosphere is a fertile breeding ground for extremism.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.