Israeli politics is damn screwy. During the campaign everyone believed Labor was going to win. Then Bibi shreyed gevalt and rallied the troops and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. He won a convincing victory and everyone tried to parse the many ways he could put together a ruling coalition. The possibilities seemed endless. Until they weren’t.
We should’ve realized when Bibi asked for an extension from the president that negotiations weren’t going swimmingly. But yesterday, at the last hour, Lieberman pulled the rug out from under Bibi. Instead of having a comfortable, relatively stable government with 67 votes, he was left with 53 and no easy way to get past 60. That put Naftali Bennett in the driver’s seat. He demanded the Justice ministry for Ayelet Shaked and got it. This is a woman who’s called for genocide against Palestinians and openly derided the Supreme Court. It’s like putting James Watt, an anti-environmentalist, in charge of the nation’s national parks. Only worse.
Netanyahu will be prime minister and foreign minister in the new government. The Guardian claims he’s holding onto that card to offer it to Isaac Herzog when the time is right. Were Herzog to accept it he should have his head examined. For this faux-left party to join the ruling coalition would likely mean the dissolution of the Zionist Union as currently constituted. This of course would suit Bibi just fine. He delights in co-opting and neutering his rivals.
But until that happens, Bibi rides on the razor’s edge with a single seat majority. This means that anyone among these four or five disparate parties can on a whim or on principle break up the government and force new elections. Should that happen, Bibi can also try to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and bring a new party into the coalition like the Zionist Union or Yisrael Beitenu. Then Bennet will no longer be sitting in the cat bird seat. It will be his turn to be on the outs. But barring that happening it should be a wild ride.
We should spare a word about the implications of this new government for relations with Washington. It’s gonna be a long, dark, bleak winter as far as that’s concerned. Almost no one in this cabinet believes in a two-state solution. To a man or woman they’re not just tacitly opposed, they’re publicly opposed. And the U.S. is not pleased:
According to the State Department official who spoke to BuzzFeed News, U.S. officials have since been sending warnings to Netanyahu that should he choose to form a narrow, right-wing government that did not support a peace process with Palestinians, they would have “deep concerns.”
“The prime minister needs to show that he is still committed to a two-state solution,” the official said. “There were, and are, deep concerns that this is no longer the case.”
It puts Pres. Obama in an awkward situation. He’s promised to review U.S. policy and threatened to adopt a more muscular, independent approach in the UN and elsewhere. If this was spoken out of more than a fit of pique, then this new government will offer a test of his will. People said the last government was the most extreme in Israel’s history. That’s now no longer true. This current one is easily the worst. If there was any time for Obama to stand up against Israel for its extremism, it’s now.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.