The 70-day-old Likud-Kadima government that broke up on Tuesday was a prime example of political shoddiness at its worst.
Israel has seen its share of unity governments. Some lasted longer than others; some accomplished a great deal and some were missed opportunities. But there has never been anything like this.
In the dark of night 70 days ago, only minutes before the Knesset was going to schedule elections for September 4, the leaders of the two big parties shocked everyone with a "historic" coalition agreement for the ensuing 18 months.
The new government had four goals: pass a universal draft law, change the system of government, jump-start the peace process and pass an emergency budget. Tuesday, after 70 days of euphoria, the partnership dissolved without any one of those things being achieved.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz are emerging from this bad joke, which made a mockery of Israeli democracy, looking bad. Both are going back to square one in much worse positions than before. Netanyahu looks as though he has forged an eternal alliance with the ultra-Orthodox, while Mofaz, who wanted the public to judge him by his results, has a very poor report card to show his voters; it has four zeros on it. He had good intentions, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with.
So what were Netanyahu and Mofaz thinking to themselves on that night of May 7-8, when they sat in the Prime Minister's Residence and swore allegiance to each other? Did they discuss the issues in depth? Did they understand the complexities of the problems they were facing? Was there even a modicum of honesty between them?
And what was the public meant to think when it went to sleep with elections and awoke to a "historic" unity government of 94 MKs and a solid secular majority? One assumes that they were meant to think the move was serious, positive and real. A move meant to produce a new world order.
The partnership between Netanyahu and Mofaz was already on the rocks at the end of last week. On Sunday, during a Likud ministers' meeting, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced that Mofaz was planning to bolt. "It will be this week, a few days before the 'suckers' demonstration on Saturday night."
He knew what he was talking about. But the cracks were obvious even before that, over the disbanding of the Plesner Committee on Equalizing the Burden.
Mofaz would have actually preferred to quit the government the day before, but elected to wait until after the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Netanyahu, in fact, invited Mofaz to dinner with Clinton, along with ministers Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya'alon, and Avigdor Lieberman, but Mofaz didn't come. He apparently did not see himself as part of the government anymore.
There are those who believe that aside from the disagreements between Mofaz and Netanyahu over a draft law - and there were real, substantive disputes - there was another reason Mofaz decided to quit the government: Ehud Olmert.
Senior Kadima people said Tuesday that Olmert had been speaking to Kadima MKs who are close to him and asked them to do their best to keep Kadima in the coalition until at least October, on the assumption that by then his legal issues would be behind him and he could return to political life.
When news of this reached Mofaz's people, they drew the logical conclusions. Olmert's bureau denies the claim.
Politically speaking, Kadima's departure from the coalition is much less dramatic than its entrance. The Knesset begins its summer break next week, so elections will probably have to wait until the first quarter of 2013.
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