Saturday, June 25, 2016

Netanyahu's political genius strikes again; What REALLY happened in the latest Israeli coalition shift?

Last month contrary to the weeks long buzz of an upcoming deal with dovish opposition leader Isaac "Boozhi" Herzog, upsetting every and all predictions by top pundits and talking heads, PM Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu went on to sign a deal with the perceived hawk Avigdor "Evet" Lieberman, joining his party "Yisrael Beiteinu" (Israel Our Home) to the government instead of Boozhi's "Zionist Union" at the expense of former Defense Minister, Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon. (Confused yet?)
As result, the leftist media (once again) went batshit, competing each other in doomsday predictions and "slope to fascism" scenarios. Indeed, following Israeli media hasn't been so joyful since Bibi's landslide elections victory.

So I decided to take a few hours off my busy schedule, to clear away the piles of media vomit, accumulated during the month, and bring you all a perspective no one else will.

"What other perspective?!? It's all about political survival!!!"
Let me tell you a little secret.
But you have to promise not to tell anyone.
Politicians do things for political survival.


Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Avigdor Lieberman.
Photo credit: Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images.

Of course Netanyahu's actions are motivated by political survival. All politicians' actions are motivated by political survival. That really goes without saying. No need to repeat that phrase over and over again like some mechanical leftist monkey. It might have given you some cred back in high school, but not anymore. Not among grown ups.

Now let's discuss some serious issues.
From the get-go, with the establishment of the current narrow, bare minimum, 61 MKs strong, right wing government Netanyahu announced his plans for future coalition expansion. "61 is a good number, 61 + is a better number" - he said, keeping a few key portfolios unmanned for potential future partners. A wide majority is obviously better than a narrow majority, allowing the government more freedom of action, less dependence on each MK's caprices or, for that matter, simple sick days. For that purpose of government expansion Netanyahu's Likud people have reportedly held secret talks for months with Herzog's Zionist Union (formerly known as the Israeli Labor Party joined by Tzipi Livni's immaterial latest list).

"Why reach out for an apparently obvious rival? One that ran on the platform of replacing him, and that still pretends to be a viable alternative?"
For Netanyahu that strategy makes perfect sense and has worked out brilliantly for him in the past. By uniting (historically) bitter ideological rivals behind him in his coalition Netanyahu demolishes any points they might have gained over him. This move presents them as empty shells with no substance and no real ideology. Talk talkers but no walk walkers. Job seekers, spitting on their electoral base. Regardless of any real achievements or gains the other party might have achieved for the people, in or out of government - the perception of them was wrecked after joining. It worked seamlessly, practically destroying the political careers of Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni (until the union with Herzog gave them both momentum) and, to a lesser degree, Yair Lapid.

Bibi and a selection of politicians nearly destroyed by his "Midas touch".
Left to right: Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz (up), Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid (down).

Boozhi was thrilled of the possibility, recounting fantastic tales of gains he managed to hustle from Netanyahu during negotiations. He was ready to join, with portfolios for him and certain other party members. Labor would split like it did once already under the leadership of Ehud Barak, and Likud's traditional main rival would suffer another humiliation from which it would take a few election cycles to recover.

So what happened?
International involvement happened. According to a Haaretz publication (not Bibi supporting, Adelson owned Israel HaYom, mind you), Tony Blair was heavily involved behind the scenes in support of adding Zionist Union to the government, "updating" John Kerry on the progress. Now let's face it, with all due respect to Blair, the days of him being an independent actor in Middle East matters are long gone (if there ever were such days). And normally one "updates" one's boss. So we see here a continuous interference with internal Israeli politics. A logical continuation to the failed attempt of meddling in Israeli elections previously described and foreseen here. The goal here is Israeli capitulation under the guise of the politically-correct, PR-pumped slogan of "Two States Solution".

This is why inserting Herzog was paramount. External players already bet on him by supporting (and funding) him in the elections in hope he'd establish a left wing government - that would capitulate. That plan failed. So now they tried to push him through the back door, hoping he and his party would change the government enough for capitulation (hopefully, by throwing out HaBayit HaYehudi). This time - away from the Israeli voter's eye, and more importantly away from his vote, since every Israeli election in recent years tells you unequivocally the Israeli voter is tired of the destructive Two States paradigm. That's the reason the left hadn't won Israeli elections for 15 years. The Israeli voter astonishingly doesn't want Israel to capitulate, and astonishingly keeps on electing leaders that share this strange desire.

To further this goal of pressing an Israeli PM to capitulate, it was decided involve Egyptian president al-Sisi in the racket. According to Haaretz, Tony Blair urged Sisi to promise in a speech strengthening of ties with Israel, if a Palestinian state is established. Herzog, aware of the international struggle on his behalf, jumped in on the action, assuring his Facebook followers (from his garden, yet still wearing a suit): "President Sissi's speech is a historic breakthrough [...] identifying unique regional opportunities [...] Is the PM ready to utilize these opportunities?"
It is now clear, those "breakthrough opportunities" were, in Boozhi's mind, the chance of having HIM, the savior, in the government.

This was probably their greatest miss. Whether getting some intel on the backroom deals, putting 1+1 together or actually receiving a phone call from Sissi (which is not as outlandish a scenario, as one might imagine), Bibi quickly readjusted to the new circumstances and reshuffled his political deck, reaching out to Lieberman instead.

"But isn't Lieberman a crazy, genocidal fascist, with no relevant military experience, who would be super dangerous in the Defense Cabinet???"
Well, not really.
That is, yes, he has no relevant military experience, but shouldn't the left applaud an appointment of a civilian to the Defense Ministry, as is the custom in Western democracies? Not to speak of hailing yet another "glass ceiling" broken with the appointment of a Russian speaker to the elite, prestigious office?

As for his "dangerous" views, nothing illustrates the reality better than Haaretz columnist Uri Misgav's two columns put one next to the other.
In the last election cycle leftist press sought to portray Lieberman as a centrist hope in the imaginary "just not Bibi" coalition. Misgav went as far as to "predict"... a defense ministry for him under Herzog in his "hope" list. Now, a year and a half later (in a piece that apparently wasn't translated to English... I wonder why?), it turns out that "the very idea (of Lieberman in the Defense ministry) is madness". You can't make these stuff up.

Misgav A: December 09, 2014.
Misgav B: May 19, 2016.
A 'madman', by his own diagnosis.

In a similar fashion, ousted Defense Minister Ya'alon turned overnight from an "unworthy", "serial trouble seeker, "a technician, not a statesman" into an "experienced", "one of the more impressive and appreciated Defense Ministers we had". This magical transformation in the "newspaper for thinking people" was only caused by one thing only - the rift in Ya'alon's relationship with Netanyahu.

As for Lieberman, from his POV, he finally managed to "conquer" yet another "pillar" of the three unofficial "pillars" on the way to Primiership; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Finance. With two out of the three jobs now in his pocket, he's able to present a better case to the Israeli public in the next elections.

What he misses, though, is the potential of a growing electorate, which, for him, can only grow in the opposition, where he can portray himself as a farther right alternative to the Likud. His "centrist" agenda failed, and a "rightist" agenda from within the Netanyahu coalition has little credibility.

So, that's the gist of the recent political upheaval in Israel in a nutshell, from a perspective you won't read anywhere else.
If you wish a better understanding of Israeli politics, you should realize one important thing: Benjamin Netanyahu is a world class, planetary level politician, putting both 'House of Cards' and 'Game of Thrones' to shame. Regardless of your political opinions, your views of his policies or your preferred party, this realization will immediately make you much more proficient in Israeli politics, enabling you to get a better glimpse of what happens in the Knesset corridors, and more importantly why it happens the way it happens.

It's also always a good idea to use your head.

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