Pressure on Netanyahu as Draft Dispute Shatters Coalition
Embattled Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu is facing mounting pressure to call an early election following Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz’s decision to leave the short-lived coalition.
Announcing his decision on Tuesday, in what may well be seen as the very worst kind of politics, Mofaz attributed his parties departure to the Government’s position on a proposal that would draft ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian Israelis into national service, of which both groups are currently exempt. Mofaz claimed the Prime Minister had chosen his ultra-Orthodox and nationalist allies over the “opportunity to make historic changes.”
It was merely 70 days ago, minutes before the Knesset was about to schedule elections for September 4th, that the leaders of the two big parties shocked the world by announcing an historic coalition agreement for the ensuing 18 months. The new Government had four central goals: pass a universal draft system, change the system of governance, restart the peace process and pass an emergency budget. By Tuesday and the dissolving of the partnership, none of the four had been achieved.
With the credibility of the country moving towards disarray, the public image of both Netanyahu and Mofaz has taken a hit. For a man who was so determined to be judged by his results, Mofaz leaves with a report card consisting of four zeroes. For both leaders the good intentions were there, but the path to success is long and strewn with obstacles – especially when Israel is involved.
The most depressing factor in this is that most people, in Israel and around the world, expected the coalition to fail. Top political commentators around the world still could not understand how these two parties could even sit around a table, let alone form a coalition. It hardly seems that long ago when former PM Ariel Sharon broke away from the Likud to form Kadima. As soon as the announcement was made people were asking questions: What were they thinking? Did they even discuss the issues? Have they forgotten their differences? Do they understand the complexities facing them? Was there ever even a hint of honesty between the two of them?
Avigdor Lieberman, head of the ultra-right Yisraeli Beiteinu party and Netanyahu’s foreign minister, has insisted that he will not follow Mofaz’s lead and abandon the coalition but has predicted that the Government will not last its full term, with elections having to be called as early as February. The next General Election is not technically due until the end of 2013.
Sources close to the PM insist the Government is able to function as usual, despite the departure of Kadima. A senior Israeli official said to local news:
“There has been no real change other than one minister – Mofaz – has left. The coalition without Kadima worked perfectly well for three years and it will continue to do so now.”
In a letter to Mofaz, Netanyahu expressed his sorrow over the departure despite the concessions, including “the conscription of ultra-Orthodox and Arabs from the age of 18.” He went on to say in the letter:
“I explained to you that the only way to implement this on the ground is gradually and without tearing Israeli society apart, especially at a time when the state of Israel is facing many significant challenges.”
From a political standpoint, Mofaz’s flight is much less dramatic than his entrance 70 days ago. Whilst the world will mull about an election date, meanwhile Netanyahu will attempt to carry on as normal. He intends to draft a conscription bill to present to his cabinet for approval on Sunday. With their support, he will present it to the Knesset for their approval before the recess.