Behind the Political Shift in Israel

In a startling overnight development, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and official “opposition leader” Shaul Mofaz of the Kadima Party have formed a “unity government” and scrapped plans for a September election. This move obviously broadens the government’s ideological base and reduces its dependence on far-right parties, and also makes Labor the official opposition. But what does it mean? I await Goreshem Gorenberg’s take on the development, but this quick analysis from Firedoglake’s David Dayen is useful:

In a way, this represents Kadima getting absorbed back into the Likud Party. Kadima is a relatively new invention of Ariel Sharon’s, and really only had one election as the main opposition. They were not expected to do well in the September elections, falling out of the second position and possibly as low as fourth or fifth. This gets Mofaz a measure of power, and they delay that reckoning for a year. This comes just months after Mofaz said publicly, “The current government represents all that is wrong with Israel.”

In addition to the agreement, the deal will bring changes to the electoral process. And Mofaz’ role in the cabinet will include being “in charge of the process with the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu’s current coalition was formed with the scraps of far-right parties, so the new government will have a much larger membership, and perhaps those far-right parties will have less of a voice. Certainly Netanyahu will be less dependent on them for his majority.

Dayen points to a reaction from Dahlia Scheindlin that is a bit more pointed and positive:

The main towering advantage of postponing the elections until late 2013 is that it ensures only another year and a half of one of the worst governments Israel has ever had – a government that drove hundreds of thousands to the streets in economic desperation, pushed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict past the point of no return, and explicitly set out to mutilate Israel’s democratic process and what remained of its democratic character. If elections were held in four months, all polls bar none showed a resounding Likud victory, the same majority for the right-wing bloc, and ergo – probably a very similar government for another four years. Whatever terrible damage a super-sized coalition majority can do – it’s better to have this for 18 months, than for up to four more years.

Americans are naturally interested, or even fearful, about the potential implications in terms of Israel’s policies towards Iran: could a broader-based government and the lack of an imminent election pave the way to military strikes? That’s a possiblility stressed by The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg in his insta-analysis.

But Scheindlin disagrees, without expressing much optimism for a responsible course of action by any government led by Netanyahu:

Some of my colleagues think that this is a launching platform for a strike on Iran. I don’t agree – Netanyahu had all the platform he needed in Israel before this too, and if anything, Mofaz has been cautious about the Iran strike. (Although why believe anything he says anymore? He also called Netanyahu a flat-out liar and said he would never go into a coalition with him.) The point is, sadly, I don’t think the prospects are changed. Israel will have to come to its senses with or without the kumbaya coalition.

So all in all, there may be less in the political shift than immediately meets the eye.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.