Like Faust, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for immortality, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz sold his soul to a “liar,” as he had repeatedly called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in exchange for keeping his party alive for at least 14 more months and rescuing himself from political oblivion.
In an interview with Army Radio a foreign correspondent described this week’s political maneuver as a “putsch.” Maybe that’s how it looks from the outside. Within the past few months Mofaz publicly called Bibi a liar and even accused him of “nefarious deeds.” On several occasions Mofaz vowed that he would not join Netanyahu’s “failed, obtuse” government under any circumstances and even attacked Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich for announcing that she would not rule out joining a national unity government under Netanyahu after the election.
If the opinion polls auguring ill for Kadima in the early election Bibi was planning were accurate, then Mofaz gained 14 months in the government as Bibi’s deputy. Going on past performance − two days before abandoning Likud for Kadima, in 2005, Mofaz had showily declared, “You don’t leave your own home” − it will take days or weeks before the details of the secret deal between Mofaz and Netanyahu come to light. Perhaps Mofaz knows something we don’t, namely that credibility is irrelevant to politics. To compare politics with the world’s oldest profession is to insult the world’s oldest profession.
When Moshe Dayan was accused of “betraying” his own declaration that Sharm el-Sheikh without peace was preferable to peace without Sharm el-Sheikh, he countered by saying that only a donkey doesn’t change his mind. Today is isn’t clear who is the donkey and who is the leader who is reading the map correctly.
Many explanations for this week’s dramatic turnabout have been offered, some of which are ridiculous. This is the reason issued by Bibi’s circle: The hall Likud rented for its convention was too small, just 500 seats. When Bibi arrived he saw hundreds of men in the crocheted kippot of settlers inside, while thousands of his supporters were left outside. He was sure that he would be elected convention president in a walk, but when attendees demanded a secret ballot he panicked and ended the meeting.
It doesn’t take much to make Bibi panic, but this time he was right. Likud under his leadership has become more extreme, to the point where the omnipotent leader fears losing control over his party. The more the pollsters promised victory to Likud, the more Bibi feared it would not be the victory he wanted.
The “nauseating maneuver” or “mega-trick,” as it has been dubbed, was not hatched overnight. Whoever termed the deal concocted with Kadima an indecent act was not mistaken. The negotiations were conducted in secret by Natan Eshel, a friend of the prime minister and his wife. Eshel, who resigned as Netanyahu’s chief of staff after he was accused of sexual harassment of a female bureau employee, is no stranger to “indecency.” Messages were conveyed verbally or in writing to the man whom Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz recently called “a big zero.” The details of the agreement between Mofaz and Likud go far beyond what was said in their joint press conference. As Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said, paraphrasing Bismarck, “People love salami, but nobody wants to see how it’s made.”
The tension felt by the two stars in their black suits, at Tuesday’s joint press conference, was palpable. Every time a reporter asked Mofaz a question, Bibi looked stressed. Especially when Mofaz gave a long answer, for fear that he might say too much and reveal the heart of the agreement. It was clear that above all, the deal specifies their relationship. I wouldn’t be surprised if the agreement covers every possible scenario, in order to avoid a situation of “the bastards changed the rules and didn’t tell me,” in the words of former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew when he was caught evading taxes.
It’s not clear what exactly they decided − but beyond the tricks, the shticks and the dirty politics there may be a few positive things:
1. The election will not be brought forward.
2. Kadima, which was expected to crash in an early election, will have an opportunity to recover.
3. Bibi will have a majority that will theoretically enable him to move toward an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and an agreement over sharing the national burden equally without surrendering to the ultra-Orthodox.
So what’s the punch line?, my editor will ask. My answer: So far, disgust.
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