Lieberman’s spite torpedoes Netanyahu and Israeli right

Friday 15/05/2015

What a difference the anger and wounded pride of one man makes!

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieber­man was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-hand man as he climbed back to power from the political wilderness and was then a trusted member of the cabinet. But Lieberman has refused to join Netanyahu’s latest ruling coalition and, in doing so, he drove a stake through the heart of right-wing nationalist unity in Israel.

On paper, the new coalition is the most right-wing government Israel has ever had. New Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been extraordinary in her publicly expressed hatred for Palestinians. She has called for their genocide. She has made no secret of her de­termination to cripple the judicial reach of Israel’s Supreme Court and push through legislation ex­tending the Jewish, as opposed to the democratic nature, of Israel.

But even Netanyahu will not dare to let her achieve any of these things. For his coalition is depend­ent on the ten votes of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party. Kahlon is a yet another Likud renegade who broke away from Netanyahu but he is on the moderate wing of Likud and takes pride in taking civil liberties seri­ously.

In any case, the new coalition would collapse with the defection of only one or two members of the Knesset. This means that every parliament member support­ing the government will follow Lieberman’s example and show no restraint whatsoever. Netanyahu must devote himself fulltime to appeasing every one of the most obscure and egotistical Knesset members in the coalition parties.

Netanyahu will cer­tainly seek to expand and strengthen his coalition but there is only one direction he can truly go: He will have to create a grand coalition with the Labour Party/Zionist Union centre-left bloc led by Isaac Herzog. It won six seats fewer than Netan­yahu in the March 17th general election. Together with Likud, it would form a solid core of 54 votes out of 120 in the Knesset.

It would not be difficult for Netanyahu to round up the pragmatic two religious Jewish parties, United Torah Judaism (six seats) and Shas (seven seats). That would allow him to make tactical compromises with Herzog and Labour and shrug off Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, the rising star of the hard-line right (his Jewish Home party has eight seats).

In the short term, Netanyahu’s current government will sound more right-wing and extreme than ever and this will unquestionably increase Israel’s isolation in the global community.

Also, Netanyahu’s grandstand­ing speech to the US Congress is already backfiring. Relations with the Obama administration have never been worse.

On May 7th, 150 Democrats in the US House of Representatives signed a letter publicly supporting Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. As Roll Call and the Washing­ton Post noted, that means that if Netanyahu’s allies in Congress voted to reject the Iranian nu­clear deal and Obama vetoed the rejection, there would be enough Democrats to sustain the veto.

Netanyahu will struggle on and try to avoid having to call another general election within the next year.

He remains the Great Survivor of Israeli politics. No one matches his skill in putting together un­likely coalitions and keeping them together.

But thanks to Lieberman’s spite, Netanyahu’s bold gamble to call a general election three years earlier than he had to has backfired. He expected to get a strong right-wing coalition to defy US efforts to re­vive the peace process and broker a two-state solution. Instead, he may be forced into a coalition with Labour and Herzog and they want to revive the peace process.

Netanyahu has suffered a humiliating reversal of fortune. And it was Lieberman, his old best friend in politics, who brought it about.