Less than a week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rudely dissolved the Plesner Committee on the grounds that it was superfluous. He then forged an alliance with the ultra-Orthodox, bringing the wrath of the contributing, army-serving secular majority on himself. In the process he nearly split the unity coalition and drew lethal criticism not only from the media but also from many in his own party. And this weekend Netanyahu carried out a magnificent U-turn.
As if nothing had ever happened, this morning he will submit the committee's recommendations to Likud's Knesset faction. Later this week he will put a draft law in the same vein to the cabinet and then to the Knesset plenum, in the hope of passing it. "Governments usually do the right thing, but only after exhausting all the other alternatives," Abba Eban once said.
Netanyahu's conduct last week is a monument to this clever aphorism. He came to the belated realization that to be seen as hostage and slave to the ultra-Orthodox in the fourth year of his term, over such a consensus issue as universal service, could be electoral suicide.
He has come to recognize that if he keeps to his current course, he will drag Likud deep into the black depths. His natural instinct - to always choose natural partners so they will all tell the president to appoint him to put the next government together - will not help him this time.
The agreement reached over the weekend with Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz took some of the sting from last night's demonstration in Tel Aviv on behalf of universal service. Among the figures riding the coattails of the self-proclaimed "suckers" who organized the protest was former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz.
In a span of four months, Halutz defected twice. On the eve of the Kadima primary, earlier this year, he bolted the camp of then chairwoman Tzipi Livni for that of Mofaz, her challenger. Last week Halutz announced he was quitting the party over the conscription issue, before withdrawing his resignation last night. It's safe to assume Halutz would not have been so quick to sell off his shares in Kadima had the latest opinion polls given the party 20 Knesset seats rather than five.
Two more political notes:
1. Where is opposition and Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich? Her lack of interest in the Tal Law and its replacement could cost her dearly. Last night's turnout in Tel Aviv proved that Israel's white tribe has gone from caring about social issues to caring about civil ones. The social protest movement hasn't pulled tens of thousands of people into the streets recently. The civil protest movement did, and big-time.
2. What's happening to the coalition? Officials in the Prime Minister's Bureau say United Torah Judaism is on the way out; the Ashkenazi Haredim are more rigid and less amenable to compromise than their Sephardi and Mizrahi counterparts in Shas. This may not be bad for Netanyahu. If the Ashkenazim of UTJ leave the coalition, he will seem to be more in tune with the secular majority. But he would not want Shas to leave; Netanyahu feels more comfortable with at least one Haredi party inside with him. As we've said before, he's no Ariel Sharon.
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