The big riddle is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was thinking when he decided to move up the elections. Why not elections at the scheduled time? After all, another year and a half in a safe government is nothing to sneeze at. In addition, he is running the country with a solid majority of 65 seats. Nobody can bring him down. If he wanted, he could even bring Kadima under Shaul Mofaz into the coalition. Bibi Netanyahu is admired by a large part of the public, unlike during his first term when he slipped on every banana peel. Now quite a number of people believe he has no equal. What could flatter a politician more than what President Shimon Peres told him: "Your father wrote history and you are making history." Did Peres really believe what he said? Or did he mean to tell Bibi that the time has come for him to make history by setting the permanent borders of the country? In that case, there is no need to be elected prime minister for a third time. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion established a state and Menachem Begin established peace with Egypt. Without being elected a third time.
Beyond those words about two states for two peoples in his Bar Ilan speech, Bibi has not made a single move. Former Shin Bet security services chief Yuval Diskin was roundly criticized for his comments about Bibi's behavior on the Iranian issue, but anyone who thoroughly analyzes Diskin's belligerent speech will reach different conclusions from those expressed in public. Bibi actually is playing an important part in mobilizing the sane world to restrain Iran without firing a single shot. On the other hand, what got lost in Diskin's words was his statement: "Forget about the stories they're selling you that Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] doesn't want to talk. They're not talking to the Palestinians because this government has no interest in talking to the Palestinians."
That's the root of the problem. Even without Diskin the picture is clear. Bibi didn't want, doesn't want, and is incapable of getting into a confrontation with the settlers. It's not in his power, certainly not part of the legacy of his late father, whom he so greatly admired.
There's a lot of talk about the Tal Law (which exempts most ultra-Orthodox men from military service, and was recently overturned by the High Court of Justice ) and about the budgetary problems, but that is not a reason for the almost panicked announcement of immediate elections. "The elections slipped out of his hands," is the opinion of one political source. The question is not only why Bibi suddenly decided to move up the elections, but why now of all times and why is he in such a rush. We could say that a bug is going around and whispering in his ear that it's better to hold elections before the U.S. presidential elections, before President Barack Obama returns to the White House, free to put pressure on Israel. It's important to him that the second-term president, who is not particularly fond of Bibi, be aware that most of the Israeli people elected him a third time. The same holds true if a Republican president is elected.
Some say that Bibi, who was strongly affected by the social protests last summer, wants to take steps to prevent the resumption of the protests this summer. Itzik Shmueli, one of the protest leaders, is preparing to enter politics. One would think that in ordinary elections the vote should focus on social problems, as is customary all over the world. But here there is an egregious anomaly where a poor man and a tycoon vote for the same party only because they both hate Arabs.
The ultra-Orthodox issue is also disturbing, but it will not dictate the political agenda, nor is it Bibi's reason for holding elections. One way or another they will be with him in any coalition no matter what happens, just as Ehud Barak will continue to serve as defense minister, whether or not his miniscule slate passes the qualifying threshold. Tzipi Livni's resignation from Kadima and from the Knesset is Shaul Mofaz's first big mistake. In his worst nightmares he didn't envision that Yair Lapid would surpass him.
Whatever the scenario, after we have summed up in a nutshell everything there is to be said, it is still unclear what really motivated Netanyahu to move up the elections so surprisingly and so quickly. His associates are spreading the rumor that he wants to get rid of the Feiglins (the far-right Likud followers of Moshe Feiglin), to freeze the settlements and destroy the illegal ones. Nor should we be impressed by the supposed tensions in relations between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Bibi. There is a suspicion that the two are more coordinated than they seem to be.
As we approach the last minute to decide on Israel's character, Netanyahu is aiming at a resounding victory in the elections to be in a better position to do nothing.
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