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Netanyahu's right wing bloc block and Barak's labor of love (of power?)


All the experts insisted that it would be a cinch for Benjamin Netanyahu to form a right wing coalition government, but it should have been obvious that such a coalition, if it is at all possible, would have an exorbitant price and would be inherently unstable (see: The myth of the right wing bloc).

The big domestic problems of this coalition are that the "right wing" bloc includes non-Zionist ultraorthodox parties whose main issue is getting money for their institutions and blocking any attempt to alleviate undemocratic religious coercion. Abroad, Avigdor Lieberman is best known for his alarming and uncouth foreign policy statements, and his extremist views about Israeli Arabs. But Lieberman's bread and butter constituency are Russian immigrants, not all of whom are Jewish according to rabbinical law, and who are therefore ineligible for Jewish religious marriage, which is the only sort of marriage open to them. So Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party want a civil marriage law. But Netanyahu could not, apparently, promise him any such law, so he had to give Lieberman, "other things" - including the Ministry of Foreign affairs.

Everyone understood that putting Avigdor Lieberman as Minister of Foreign Affairs is bound to antagonize every country in the world, even before he opens his mouth or takes office. Der Spiegel ranted Lieberman and Netanyahu are the gravediggers of the peace process. Perhaps it is so, but they would not be burying the peace process alive. It is more important to determine who killed the peace process, then to find the name of the undertaker. Nonetheless, and even allowing for hysteria of foreign media, most Israelis and almost everyone else gets a queasy feeling about having Lieberman as Foreign Minister, and with good reason.

According to the newspaper headlines, the coalition with Lieberman heading the Foreign Ministry seemed to be a done deal. Those who read the fine print however, understood that Netanyahu doesn't really have an agreement with Avigdor Lieberman. The "agreement" meanwhile leaves open the question of the civil marriage law. This is like saying that the Palestinians and Israelis have signed a peace agreement, but have left open the minor matter of borders or right of return of refugees. The announcement of "agreement" was apparently an exercise in "constructive ambiguity," an American term which means "lying" in English.

The demands of the far right parties and the blackmail of the orthodox parties would not make it easy for Netanyahu to deal rationally with the worsening economic crisis and the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. He dropped the National Union party as potential partners, perhaps because the association of some of their members with the extremist outlawed Kahanah party would alarm the U.S. State Department as well as a lot of Israelis. That leaves him with 61 potential coalition members unless he can get either the Israel Labor party or Kadima to join the coalition. A government that rests on 61 Knesset members is a government that will fall if someone sneezes next to it.

The announcement of the coalition deal with Lieberman, and the Lieberman foreign minister post, looks more and more like a device to pressure the reluctant Labor and Kadima parties. Netanyahu offered Labor several ministries, including of course, the Defense Ministry for Ehud Barak, the labor and welfare ministry for Yitzhak Herzog and Minister without portfolio (or in English, Minister in charge of nothing) for Avishai Braverman. The offer has split the Labor party. Ehud Barak is waving the flag and insists that duty and patriotism require that Labor (and he) serve in the government. One suspects that his motives are not entirely altruistic, to say the least. Six Labor Knesset members say they will not join the government and will not support it. A meeting of this opposition faction was canceled this evening, and a Labor party central committee meeting vote is scheduled for next Tuesday. An attorney is filing suit to remove Ehud Barak as head of the Labor party. Netanyahu is reportedly going to ask for more time to form his government, the same government that was supposed to be a "no problem" "right wing bloc" coalition.

Three bad outcomes are possible, and the one reasonable outcome seems to be unobtainable. The good outcome would be a government of Likud, Labor and the Kadima party, that either declares explicitly that it will seek a two state solution, which is anathema to the hardliners in the Likud, or at least accepts the previous commitments of the state of Israel, to borrow a phrase from our Palestinian neighbors. In the latter case, the Likud will not be forced to say that it accepts a two state solution, but the direction of the government will be clear, though government guidelines don't usually have much meaning in practice. The bad outcomes are:

1) A narrow Likud government with Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister, resting on the principle of paying extortion money to the ultraorthodox parties.

2) Labor joins the Likud government and remain united, and serves with Avigdor Lieberman creating a foreign policy nightmare, or worst of all:

3) Labor is split and only a part of Labor joins the Likud government.

A split in the Labor party will be the death blow to Labor Zionism and to any hope of a reasonable peace settlement or reasonable government in Israel. Perhaps that is precisely the outcome that Netanyahu is hoping to engineer.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 1 Comment

The only nightmare is the Israeli Bolshevists. Their hatred for capitalism destroyed Israel.

Posted by Aram @ 03/29/2009 04:34 PM CST

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