The Impact of the Likud Election Victory on the Israeli Political Landscape

Two weeks ago, I noted that the real election was between those who sought to revitalize Israel’s tattered social contract, and those who supported the current political system. I said that under the current system, the country is ruled by a federation of sectoral micro-sovereignties whose primary concern is to further their own narrow interests—even when this comes at the expense of the common weal.


It is now obvious that the micro-sovereignties have emerged victorious. The only party that will apparently be included in the new cabinet that supports the notion of a renewed social contract, Moshe Kahalon’s Kulanu party, will be a distinct minority in the new coalition government.


I have spent much of the last two weeks trying to assess what exactly happened during the campaign and what the results of the balloting portend.


Of course, I am not the only one to have engaged in such a project. For the past two weeks, the Israeli media have been full of post-mortems about the nature of the recent election campaign, and the mistakes they made in their coverage of it. But their interests have, in general, been very narrow.


Most of their focus has been on why they failed to predict a Likud victory—never mind the landslide that actually occurred.


Most of the pundits placed the blame for their own shortcomings on the assessments made by the pollsters during the campaign. As one of the country’s leading journalists put it immediately after the results of the balloting became known “we relied on the pollsters and what they were giving us. It was all we had to go on.”


That statement was far more revelatory than even that particular media star appears to have wished. It highlighted, at least for me, the fact that none of the leading pundits, whether they were supporters of the left or the neo-nationalist camp, actually went out and spent time talking to people who did not live in these pontificators’ immediate environment. In other words, most of those who covered the election were lazy and did not do even the most basic legwork necessary to produce good journalism.


The thing is, as best as I have been able to determine, the pollsters did give a reasonably accurate picture of potential voting patterns up to the Friday prior to the polling date. Even private, so-called “deep,” Likud-sponsored polls indicated that Labour at that time, was leading by about 4 Knesset seats. The real action, however, began only late on Friday after the law forbidding pollsters to publish their findings came into effect.


This is what appears to have occurred between Friday and election day.


All the evidence indicates that, throughout the election campaign, the country was basically split into two camps—one of which was pro-Bibi, and the other, anti-Bibi. The polls taken as the election campaign progressed indicated beyond any doubt that the voting picture had become static. Only a tiny minority of voters was even considering crossing the lines to vote for the bloc that they had previously opposed.


There was considerable evidence that about a fifth of the electorate was uncertain about which party to vote for. But that uncertainty was about which of the parties within the voter’s favoured bloc the person should vote for. In other words, until the final weekend, the campaign had become a zero sum game played between the parties in each camp.


The primary reason for the Zionist camp’s lead was that Likud, up to that point, had focused almost entirely on securing the votes of activist settler supporters—especially those who might have voted for HaBayit HaYehudi. That operation had largely succeeded.


The Likud strategists realized, though, that that, for all the noise they produce, hard core settler supporters make up only a very small percentage of the voting population. There would never be enough of them to overcome the anti-Netanyahu forces that, for weeks, had been seeing their strength solidify. The Likud strategists therefore came to the conclusion that the only possible road to victory would be to increase the number of Likud supporters who would actually visit the polling booths.


They then pulled out the results of a series of focus groups that they had conducted in December, when the election campaign had first begun. The object of these focus groups had been to determine what it would take to get those potential Likud supporters who rarely vote to go to the polls en masse. The focus groups found that the most easily mobilized were those voters who were viscerally, xenephobically anti-Arab, those who were fearful of Arabs, or those who were determinedly anti-Labour.


Netanyahu’s acute understanding of how this particular emotionally-driven, politically-unsophisticated constituency thinks and behaves, in the end, enabled him to find the additional voters he needed in order to turn the tide.


Beginning on the Friday prior to the election Netanyahu launched an unprecedented media blitz designed to capitalize on both the underlying fears and the tribal instincts of these Likud supporters.


Both the Zionist Camp and the media pundits were caught off-guard by the intensity of the offensive…and Netanyahu’s blatant and unashamed use of what would otherwise be considered “politically incorrect” rhetoric.


The Zionist Camp and the anti-Bibi pundits should really not have been at all surprised by what had happened. As I have consistently tried to show over the years, Israeli politics has been tribal in nature since the socialists introduced tribal politics in the 1930s. If nothing else, this election demonstrated once again, and beyond any shadow of a doubt, that political tribalism, or what professionals call “identity politics,” remains one of the fundamental elements of Israeli politics.


Parenthetically, I should add that the continued presence of tribal politics in Israel, and the political language it encourages, is one of the reasons for the misunderstandings between Israelis and foreigners in general…and Diaspora Jews in particular.


One of the main dogmas that accompanies tribalist politics everywhere in the world is the belief that humanity is divided into two basic camps—the “thems” and the “usses.” In other words, sophisticated ideology plays a relatively small part in the decision-making of tribalist politicians or their supporters. All decisions, or almost all decisions, are directed first and foremost at fostering loyalty to the tribe, and then at providing the means by which tribal members can openly express that loyalty.


One of the primary reasons why tribalist politics remains so entrenched in Israel is that more than half of Israeli voters either came from or are the first generation progeny of parents who were born in non-democratic countries where this perception of the world …the perception that we live in a binary political cosmos made up of “thems” and “uses”… was a key to survival. When these immigrants came to Israel and encountered the theory and practice of democracy for the first time, it was only natural that many of them, both Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, would bring this way of assessing the world to the political arena that they encountered in their newly-adopted country.


In general, political forums everywhere adopt one of two basic approaches to the discussion of issues and to decision-making. Consultative forums usually act on the basis of a belief in the principle of “them and us,” or “them with us.” In practical terms this the means that the declared aim in any discussion or debate is usually to create what are called “win-win” solutions.


By contrast, polarized forums invariably adopt the principle that politics is a matter of “them” or “us.” This then leads the participants in debates or discussions in this type of forum to view any set of negotiations as “zero sum” games where any gain by one participant must be at the expense of the other.


Consultative forums are based on trust, and usually use what is often called a “bipartisan” or an “across-the-aisle approach to policy-making. One of the outstanding characteristics of these types of forums is that they tend to operate using a set of clearly articulated rules and procedures in order to reduce the chance of disruptive surprises and misunderstandings.


In polarized forums, fear plays an inordinate role in shaping people’s perceptions of their social and political environment. This then very often leads to unilateral actions and other disruptive tactics. Because their focus is always on unilateral victory, debates in polarized forums are often accompanied by ruthless forms of behavior, the use of weasel words that can multiple meanings, and attempts to trap opponents in order to make them succumb.


It is a historical fact that the immigrants who arrived in Israel from North Africa and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s, learned to fear the high-handedness of the largely Ashkenazi-populated socialist tribe that was running the country at that time.


Menachem Begin’s political genius lay in his ability to persuade these newcomers to join his Herut party tribe—even though it too was Ashkenazi-run—because it was not only anti-socialist in its beliefs, it was anti the Israeli Labour Party in practice.


When Herut amalgamated with the Liberal party to form the Likud, the by-now fervently anti-Labour party Mizrahim, almost doubled the new party’s primary voting base.


As part of their socialization into the Likud, these Mizrahim assimilated and fully adopted one of the most salient features of the Herut’s Party’s self-perception—its self-identification as what it calls “ the fighting family.” It is important to understand that the term “fighting family” is just a different way of saying that this party perceives the world as a place populated by “us” and any number of “thems”—and therefore one must be constantly on guard against and be prepared to engage in endless wars of attrition with the “thems.”


The Mizrahim’s new-found devotion to the Herut tribe was tested almost immediately after the Likud defeated Labour for the first time. Very soon after its election to office, the Likud mismanaged the economy so badly that the country became beset by hyperinflation. It then also launched a war in Lebanon that would end up lasting 18 years. And to top things off, not long after the Lebanese war began to degenerated into a bloody into a political and military stalemate, because Israel’s banks were allowed to manipulate their share prices, the country’s entire banking system collapsed. The banks then had to be bailed out at what was then the unbelievable cost to the treasury of 9 billion shekels.


Nonetheless, despite these three monumental failures in policy-making the Likud’s Mizrahi supporters refused to abandon their newly-adopted political family. No less importantly, in subsequent years, they have continued to support the party even though its leaders have lied shamelessly and have unfairly provided more funding to largely-Ashkenazi-inhabited settlements in the West bank than to largely-Mizrahi inhabited villages within the green line.


The very idea that tribal devotion should supersede personal interests invariably confounds anyone with a pretence to claiming rationality as the basis for his or her approach to decision-making. Anti-Likud pundits have recently begun referring to this form of behavior as “the Mizrahi battered wife syndrome.”


So deep has been the Mizrahi voters’ attachment to their political family, and so passionate is their dislike and distrust of Labour that only twice since Begin’s first electoral victory in 1977, has Labour won the prime ministership in an election.


I should add here that the pundits today, once again, inaccurately, have claimed that those two victories, (by Yitzchak Rabin, and later by Ehud Barak), have shown that Labour can only win an election if it is led by a senior, retired general.


That assertion is entirely false. The factual evidence available indicates clearly that those two electoral victories came about because the Likud was abandoned during those two occasions by largely-Ashkenazi pro-settler extremists who were distraught during those two time periods because the Likud was not taking a more extreme stand in support of settlement activity.


If nothing else, during his long political career, and especially because he was one the two Likud leaders who was abandoned by the extremists, Bibi Netanyahu has internalized this reality and made it the foundation stone upon which all his subsequent political actions have been based.


For most of the 1980s, Labour and Likud ran neck and neck each time an election was held. That situation changed beyond all recognition when almost a million, invariably virulently anti-socialist immigrants from the former Soviet Union, arrived in the country. About one half has since usually voted for a distinct Russian-speaking party, while the other half has mainly supported the Likud. Significantly, they have demonstrated as strong an attachment to the “us” against the “them” school of politics as do the Mizrahim, and their loyalty to neo-nationalist parties has sealed the Likud’s position as the country’s leading political party.


One of the most interesting aspects of this recent campaign was that initial public opinion polls seemed to show that this time there might be a slight change in voting patterns of the progeny of both the Russian-speakers and the Mizrahim. Those polls seemed to indicate that the children of both Mizrahi and Russian speaking citizens might be becoming what might be called “Israelified”—that is, willing to vote on the basis of national issues rather than tribal political party attachment. A couple of deep background polls indicated that the children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union might be willing to give the Yesh Atid party the equivalent of one Knesset seat’s worth of votes, and Mizrahi young people might be willing to give that party a half a Knesset member’s worth of votes because of the party’s stand on social and economic issues.


However, once Netanyahu began his last ditch appeal to voters—one that some folks have now come to call the “Five Day War,” those indicators disappeared. The voting results showed conclusively that, once Netanyahu called upon them not to abandon the fighting family, the children of Likud members obeyed the call. In other words, contrary to the initial signs, membership in the tribe had, in fact, become hereditary.


Interestingly, there is a big difference in the way that their tribal attachment is rationalized by its different members. The immigrants from the former Soviet Union, in general, have always considered themselves culturally and intellectually superior to native Israelis. They tend to look down on liberals and social democrats as both weak and insufficiently nationalistic.


On the other hand, even though the Likud has been in power for more years than any other party over the past half century, and even though it has only been led by only Ashkenazi party leaders during that period, the Mizrahim nonetheless continue to perceive themselves as belonging to a tribe of socio-economic “underdogs” who need to protect themselves and their culture from what they are convinced are the racist attitudes of Labour’s Ashkenazi elitists.


Most Mizrahi political activists point out that polling data shows that Labour supporters are far more likely to be Ashkenazi and to live in upscale, high socio-economic locales. What they fail to say is that Central Bureau of Statistics data now indicate that in the space of one generation, over half of those who immigrated from Asian and African countries have managed to make it into the middle class—a success rate that almost matches that of the eastern European Jews who emigrated to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.


But what seems to irk Mizrahim even more is the fact that many Ashkenazim do look down on Mizrahi Jews’ cultural inheritance, especially the way that what might be called “folk religion,” such as visiting the graves of saints, is practiced.


I should emphasize at this point that many of Labour’s supporters stereotype themselves and their political opponents in much the same way as many Mizrahim do. When allowed free rein in expression, all too many of those on the secular left also adopt a “them” and “us” approach to domestic politics. In their case, they perceive themselves to be rationalists who are trying to hold exponents of emotional rhetoric, and emotionally-based and religiously-based decision-making at bay.


This atmosphere of intense social polarity, combined with his decision to enhance voters’ fears in the coarsest manner possible, provided Netanyahu with the perfect environment to launch his late political offensive.


When I reviewed all the statements issued by the Zionist Camp’s spokespeople during this campaign, I found that they seemed to have been oblivious to a dynamic that had been underway in the Likud Camp long before the election campaign had even begun. Undoubtedly, the most important element in this dynamic was the fact that Likud supporters had been primed by all the news reports of the past few years to be fearful about how the events taking place in the Arab world might affect Israel.


Those already-existing fears were then exacerbated during the campaign by, among other things, the grisly nightly pictures of orange-dressed hostages being beheaded, and vast tracts of Damascus being laid waste.


During the campaign, those fear-inducing videos were also being supplemented by news reports closer to home that were having no less of an impact. In particular, the decision by the Arab Joint List not to enter into a purely tactical surplus votes agreement with Meretz because of Balad’s demands that the new Arab alignment have nothing to do with the Zionist parties, confirmed for many Jewish Israelis who were already predisposed to believing so that the country’s Arabs did not really want to take part in the give and take political life of the country.


Hertzog and Meretz bewailed the joint list’s decision, but they either could not or were uninterested in finding an effective way to counter the impact that the joint list’s decision was having in Jewish voters.


A very incisive Likud official has noted that he was truly surprised at the way the Zionist camp reacted to the reality in which the Likud was operating. He pointed out that you cannot neutralize a strategy that is based on fostering emotions—such as the one which the Likud adopted—without having a no-less emotionally-based response ready to use as an antidote.


The Zionist Camp did adopt some negative campaigning techniques, but they were rather anemic when compared with the blood and thunder that Bibi was about to hurl down on them.


The Likud official I just mentioned suggested that the most appropriate response by the Zionist camp to the Likud’s fear-inducing campaign would have been to launch a no less emotional campaign that was based on projecting an emotional-inducing vision of a better world and how Labour would create it. Instead, the Zionist camp promised nothing more than to manage the country’s affairs better than the Likud did—a message that, under the circumstances, was drab and uninspired in the extreme.


An even more important factor, though was the fact that the Zionist camp was never able to break the hammerlock that the Likud, from the very outset, had put on the election campaign agenda. Throughout the campaign Netanyahu refused to get drawn into the debate on socio-economic issues and kept insisting that the elections be decided on the basis of who was best equipped to handle security and defence issues. He became a “Johnny One Note,” constantly claiming that the only thing that should guide voters’ decisions was how Israel should react to the US-led talks with the Iranians.


This tactic worked because, crucially, throughout the campaign, and partly because the Likud kept complaining that the press was ignoring the party’s messages, Netanyahu and his supporters actually ended up getting more television time than all the other political party leaders combined.


Given all these factors at work, anyone who has monitored Netanyahu’s behaviour in the past should not have been surprised at all by the way he led and directed the final campaign battle.


Put simply, as Yitzchak Herzog was boxing using the Marquis of Queensbury rules, Netanyahu decided to change the very nature of the contest and turn it into a no-holds-barred cage-wrestling match.


Netanyahu’ basic technique was simple: He employed short, staccato sentences whose message was filled with quasi-military code words that were easily comprehended by his intended “fighting family” audience. The main themes were:


  • A cabal of foreigners was out to “overthrow” (l’hapil) Likud family rule.
  • As a result, he (Tribal leader Bibi) was now issuing a “call-up of the family reserves” (Tsav Shmona) to thwart them
  • Israel’s Arabs, using busses provided by foreign leftists were rushing in droves (noharim) to vote.


It is unclear whether Netanyahu’s verbal tactics were the product of a panic that he might lose, as some pundits have suggested, or that they were the result of a careful assessment of what the effect of these words would have on foreign listeners as well. What is absolutely clear is that Bibi’s statements, and the Likud SMS’s to the effect that the Arabs were “tripling” their vote which accompanied his words, had an immediate impact on Israeli-American relations.


The standard line that Likud officials have used to excuse the negative impact that Netanyahu’s words have had is that Bibi, during the campaign was not talking as a national leader, but as a political party leader who was thus free to say whatever he felt was necessary to gain electoral victory.


From their reaction, it is clear that not one foreign leader has bought that line.


The precise effect Bibi’s words have had on foreign leaders is still hard to gauge. The US has declared that it now wants to, in Obama’s words “reassess” America’s posture in the Middle East. What the administration’s use of the word “reassess” means in practical terms is still difficult to judge. Israel’s relationship with the United States has been based on two principles—shared interests and shared values. It has become blatantly obvious that Israel under Netanyahu and the US under Obama find it difficult to find common interests. For example, they no longer agree on how to deal either with the Iranian or the Palestinian issue because both their immediate and medium-term concerns are very different.


More worrisome, though, is the fact that Netanyahu’s claims about Israel’s Arabs have called into question whether the two countries now share common values, particularly those relating to the rights of minorities. Certainly the timing of Netanyahu’s remarks about the Arabs voting in droves—which was interpreted by many foreigners as undermining Israeli democracy because they implied that there was something intrinsically wrong with Arabs voting in large numbers—could not have been worse. He uttered them at the very moment when the US was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the seminal Selma march that was one of the landmarks in the American blacks’ struggle for equal rights and equal opportunities. The four leading black American policy-makers (Barak Obama, Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarret and Susan Rice), for whom the Selma celebrations could not but have elicited an emotional response, must have reacted with anger to Bibi’s remarks.


Netanyahu has since tried to soften the impact of his words, but to no avail. He is simply no longer believed by any of Israel’s most important allies.


For that reason, there is now a consensus among Israel’s professional foreign policy fraternity, including those considered to have right-wing beliefs, such as the former head of the National Security Council, Uzi Arad, that Netanyahu’s words did do irreparable damage to Israeli-American relations. Many Israeli officials are now going even further. They say that Netanyahu also made a profound strategic mistake when he tried to project what Obama’s behavior would be in the last 2 years of the president’s term in office. Instead of behaving like a lame duck, as many Likud officials had confidently predicted followed the last mid-term US election, Obama is giving every sign of acting like a wounded lion out to prove that he can still determine what his historical legacy will be—especially in the field of foreign affairs


At a minimum, the Bibi’s remarks during the final days of the election campaign have raised the level of petulance on both sides to previously-unseen and unheard of levels. In particular, there is growing concern by Israeli foreign policy officials that Obama and his innermost group of advisors have interpreted Netanyahu’s remarks about Israeli Arabs in the same way they would have interpreted anyone else’s call to be beware of blacks voting in the United States.


These Israeli officials believe that Obama has become so incensed about Netanyahu’s remarks about Israeli Arabs voting that he has now launched a dirty tricks campaign to delegitimize the Israeli value set that is the country’s primary bond to American decision-makers. They point to the Wall Street Journal article that claimed that Israeli officials, acting on Netanyahu’s instructions, have been briefing Republican members of the Senate on the US proposals at the Iran nuclear talks using secret material about those talks that was gathered clandestinely and supplied by the Mossad. That article, they say, was obviously planted by an administration official as the first shot in that delegitimization campaign.


Another immediate bit of fallout from Bibi’s speeches has been the reaction by almost all foreign leaders to Bibi’s seeming volte-face immediately after the election was over. On both the issue of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s commitment to giving its Arab citizens full rights, Bibi seemed to reverse himself the moment the ballots were counted. For that reason, Netanyahu is now no longer considered to be a trustworthy interlocutor and is being virtually shunned by leaders abroad. Bibi’s devoted acolyte, Yuval Steinitz has now taken on the task of acting as Netanyahu’s mouthpiece when foreign leaders need to be addressed personally and directly.


Back home, Netanyahu is no less distrusted by the very people who are expected to fill the cabinet seats in his new coalition government. More on that in a moment.


His success in the recent election has enabled Netanyahu to fulfil his greatest dream as a politician. The primary post-election problem that he is now facing, though, is that that dream has also become his worst nightmare.


For the first time in his career as prime minister, he is now in a position to create a coalition government of like minds. However, if the coalition negotiations continue as they have to date, the government-to-be will this time be lacking two crucial components that were present to at least some degree in the governments that Netanyahu led previously.


First, in the past, because his coalitions were more heterogeneous, he could always call upon, or he was at least forced to hear a range of opinions on major issues.


Secondly, the presence of moderate cabinet members gave him more domestic political maneuverability. For example, he could afford to placate the neo-nationalist extremists within his coalition because he was also always able to call upon someone within his inner circle to act as his envoy to the liberals in Europe and America and declare to them with a straight face that peace with the Palestinians was still possible. At various times, Dan Meridor, Ehud Barak and Tzippi Livni had filled this role.


Other than maybe Sylvan Shalom, there is no such candidate immediately available who is capable of filling this role today.


Of even greater importance, though, is Netanyahu’s need to find a justice minister capable of fending off the demands of the extreme neo-nationalists. The extremists in his new government have already prepared a list of demands that can easily be interpreted as attempts to undermine the rights of Israel’s minorities, as violating international law and as moves to weaken the country’s justice system and to circumvent landmark Supreme Court decisions. Should these measures be passed, they would undoubtedly provide the US administration and the Europeans with all the ammunition they need should they decide to pursue an all-out value delegitimization campaign.


It is now also eminently clear to all that even if only some of those measures that have been proposed by the extremists are passed by the cabinet, the growing BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement will be strengthened, and Israel foreign relations, especially with Europe, could be deeply affected. It is known that France, for example, has already prepared a proposal that it wants to submit to the EU to impose sanctions on Israel if the construction of settlements in the West Bank continues.


It has been suggested by some that Bibi brought Benny Begin out of retirement and gave him a safe place on the Likud’s electoral list precisely so that he could fulfill the role of justice minister. Begin is renowned as an extreme supporter of the settler movement. However, it is also believed that Benny Begin the son, like Menachem Begin the father is a deep believer in the rule of law—and so he is expected to oppose most of the measures now being proposed by neo-nationalist extremists. The problem is, though, that Benny Begin was trained as a geophysicist, not a lawyer.


I think it is also fairly clear now that Netanyahu is having more trouble putting together a cabinet than he originally anticipated. Most of the publicity about this issue is being given to the battle for senior cabinet posts by Yvette Liberman and Naftali Bennett.


However, there is a much more subtle dynamic at work that has not been given the public attention it deserves.


As I said, Netanyahu is deeply distrusted by his potential cabinet colleagues, and they are now demanding that every promise he makes to them be put into writing. However, Netanyahu, particularly in the wake of his experience with his previous cabinet, has clearly come to the belief that the most stable cabinets are those that are made up of weak parties. That means that the cabinet posts must be distributed in such a way that each of the parties within the cabinet can act as a check on the others.


Netanyahu can still form a cabinet without Liberman and his six Knesset seats. Without Liberman demanding a senior portfolio, Netanyahu would then be able to force Bennett to moderate his demands for a high-ranking portfolio too.


However, Bibi cannot do without Moshe Kahlon, and his 10 Knesset seats, in his coalition.


The thing is, Moshe Kahlon probably dislikes and distrusts Netanyahu more than any other potential cabinet minister. By his actions and statements, he has already made it plain that he is acutely aware of Netanyahu’s intent to keep his cabinet partners as weak as possible. Kahlon’s entire political future, though, is predicated on his ability to fulfill the campaign promises he made to restructure the economy…and especially to cut the cost of living, (and in particular the cost of housing), and to weaken the banks. In order to do so, he has to be able to act from a position of strength. Netanyahu’s aides, however, have already derided Kahlon’s demands by declaring that “there cannot be a government within a government.”


The results of that approach have already become visible.


Unlike Yair Lapid, who had to cope with a 40 billion shekel deficit when he took office as finance minister, Lapid has bequeathed to Kahlon an estimated budget surplus of 10 billion shekels. That could finance important first stages of Kahlon’s reform efforts. However, Netanyahu, has already promised the Haredim 2-3 billion of that sum (and maybe even 5 billion shekels) as a payoff for joining the cabinet, and Netanyahu is also expected to allocate several hundred more millions to the settlers. To top things off, though, Netanyahu has also never seen a request from the military that he didn’t like. At the moment, the Defence establishment is asking for an additional 5.6 billion.


In other words, all the money Kahlon needs to launch the reform has already been committed.


Not only that, Kahlon is convinced that he will only be able to ensure the passage his reforms in the Knesset as well as their implementation if he can control the pipeline his measures must pass through. However, Bibi has now also apparently placed every potential roadblock possible in Kahlon’s way. Netanyahu has apparently promised to give the chairmanship of the Knesset finance committee, which must pass all of Kahlon’s measures, to the Haredi United Torah Judaism party; and to allow the National Planning Committee, which will be needed to complete the formulation of Kahlon’s plans to remain part of the bailiwick of the Interior Ministry—which has been promised to Shas leader Aryeh Deri. If these appointments are made, Kahlon will be turned into a helpless dependent, totally reliant on Bibi to clear the roadblocks as they appear in practice.


But finding a way to reestablish communication with foreign leaders and putting together a cabinet are not Netanyahu’s only worries. He will also have to put his own office in better order. To begin with, so poisonous has his relationship with American Democrats become that he will have difficulty in reconstructing any relationship with that party unless he quickly finds a replacement for his personally-appointed ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer. Dermer is perceived by almost everyone in Washington as being the point man who tried to foster closer relations with the Republican party at the Democrats’ expense.


Not only that, in the past, Israeli leaders have put major efforts into developing high-quality communication lines with the leaders of Sunni Arab states, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They are now in the midst of confronting many of Israeli sworn enemies. It also just so happens that today most of these states are also at odds with the Obama Administration over Washington’s confused policy towards the Middle East and its stance with regard to Iran. In recent months, these Arab states, together with Israel, have formed what is, in effect, an unofficial alliance that is opposed not just to Obama’s position on negotiations with the Iranians, but also Obama’s overall approach to the use of American military power in the Middle East.


To date, these efforts have been managed largely by Netanyahu’s trusted envoy for secret diplomacy, Yitzchak Molcho. However, it now appears that, because of the violence undermining the stability of much of the Arab world this relationship will have to be expanded. If the team in the prime minister’s office dealing with the events in the Arab world is expanded, the might be an increase in the number of embarrassing or counterproductive leaks.


And finally, just to top things off, Netanyahu is soon going to have to deal with demands emanating from the Bank of Israel. The Bank of Israel, after all is in charge of the country’s monetary policy on which both growth and price stability—and therefore the success of any government—depend.


The problem is that the Bank can only do its work once there is a clear government policy for the Bank to work with.


The rest of this sounds like a modernized version of the ditty that ends every Pesach seder—Had Gadya—best translated from the Aramaic as “A paean to a goat.”


But here goes:


The government’s economic policy can only be laid out if there is a budget.


There can be no budget without a cabinet being formed.


Both Habayit HaYehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Yvette Liberman are fighting over who should get the post of foreign minister, which Liberman currently occupies.


Bibi has always had a good relationship with Liberman, but Bennett and Bibi loath each other.


Bibi can form a coalition without Liberman and his 6 Knesset seats, but Bibi needs all of Bennet’s 8 seats to form a majority government.


Once a new government is formed, the nature of the budget can only be determined once the cabinet knows certain vital facts such as whether the Europeans will impose sanctions in an effort to force Israel to renew the peace process with the Palestinians.


According to Abu Mazzen, the peace process can only be renewed if Israel stops construction in the West Bank.


Construction can only be halted, though, if the HaBayit Hayehudi party acquiesces to it.

But after Bibi “stole” so many potential HaBayit HaYehudi voters during the Five Day War, HaBayit HaYehudi is in no mood to delay construction in the West Bank for even a second.


Oh yes…Of course…There can be no cabinet at all without Moshe Kahlon becoming one of its members.


But Kahlon, and his 10 Knesset seats will only join the government if he is assured in advance that he will be given the bureaucratic pipeline he needs to ensure the passage of his planned reforms.


His possession of the pipeline llooks as though it is already blocked because bits of it have already been promised to the Haredim.


The Haredim will only allow passage of the bills if through the pipeline if heavy tolls like additional funding for the Yeshivas is agreed upon.


But even if the Haredim promise not to stand in Kahlon’s way, it is still unclear to what extent the budget will nonetheless be altered by the other Knesset finance committee members.


Only a strong finance minister can control the independent-minded, and lobbyist-influenced finance committee members.


But Netanyahu doesn’t like strong-minded people who see themselves as potential prime ministers in his cabinet.


Bibi believes that he is the only strong man Israel needs. However he is not as strong as he thinks he is.


The Bank of Israel has already warned that Bibi that his promises to the Haredim will require a rise in taxes in 2016.


Ah, but both Netanyahu and Kahlon are on record as being opposed to raising taxes.


Their only alternative is to cut perks and tax abatements that have been handed out to all sorts of interested parties over the years.


Those interested parties, from Likud-led municipalities to big financiers have lots of clout, and will not take lightly to such steps


However, without knowing which perks will be eliminated, what effect such an elimination will have on the economy, and whether the Knesset finance committee acting under pressure from lobbyists working on behalf of the special interests will try to reverse the process, it will be impossible to produce a budget.


Welcome back to the original refrain. Without a budget, there can be no statement of government policy.


Without a statement of policy, the Bank of Israel cannot decide on a monetary policy.


Without a monetary policy there can be no attempt at economic growth and price stability.


Without the prospect of economic growth and price stability the government, Moshe Kahlon will not join the government.


And that will then get everyone’s goat.


Had Gadya-a-a-a, Had Gadya.



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