ANALYSIS: Finally, desperate Netanyahu salvages a rare victory
New law probably won't split Kadima, a move that wouldn't have strengthened the already powerful Netanyahu.
After the defeats, capitulations and missteps, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu desperately needed a victory. Any type of victory, it didn't matter what. "Let me win!" he has often told people lately.
Yesterday he succeeded in passing the bill known as the "Mofaz Law," which will make it easier for him to split Kadima in the future. The bill passed easily, 62 to 47 - and Netayahu was all victorious smiles. It didn't matter that on his way to the victory he was showered with abuse from the unwilling hero of the hour, Shaul Mofaz, who called the prime minister a "lowly political wheeler-dealer" and compared him to the dictatorial rulers of Cuba and North Korea.
It didn't seem to bother Netanyahu that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, until recently a good friend and confidant, fled the Knesset plenum so as not to take part in an act he found repelling. The scathing criticism, whether public or private, from his own cabinet ministers did not bother Netanyahu either. It also did not seem to bother him that he had forced the 18th Knesset to spend its last week before its first summer recess dealing with an anti-democratic law that encourages opportunism, and "makes a joke of democracy, the Knesset and the rules of the game," as Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) described it to Haaretz.
It is doubtful whether Kadima will split as a result of the new law. And even if Netanyahu's aides are right and there are really seven dwarfs hiding in their cave and ready to jump on the coalition's wagon at any time - it will still not really strengthen Netanyahu. He was strong enough anyway, even if he is scared of falling at any moment.
One thing is certain: Mofaz will not desert. If he had such ideas at the start of the term, the Mofaz Law came along and nailed him down to his party. His speech to the Knesset yesterday was his opening shot in his next run against Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Who knows, maybe in the future the law will actually help seven Likud MKs to break away from their party if Netanyahu goes too far in negotiations with the Palestinians or Syrians.
From Netanyahu's perspective, he restored his power of deterrence. Next week he will pass the land reforms after having succeeded in taming all the mighty heroes who abandoned him last week, including the Labor Party's ministers and even his own party's vice prime minister and strategic affairs minister, Moshe Ya'alon. The former IDF chief of staff, a fierce warrior on the battlefield, was revealed to be a poor politician. Less than a week after his "kibbutz values" did not allow him to support the reforms of the Israel Lands Administration, Ya'alon announced yesterday in the Likud faction meeting that he will now vote to pass the same reforms. He did mumble something about changes in the law that Netanyahu had promised him, but Netanyahu jumped at the comment. "I said I would agree to examine if there is a problem," said Netanyahu with uncharacteristic sarcasm, "and I said that if there was a problem I would agree to examine if there is a solution." Ya'alon was silent. "Bogey [Ya'alon] fought to the first drop of his blood," his Likud colleagues agreed.
One of Netanyahu's senior ministers told Haaretz yesterday that he personally has talked to seven Kadima MKs, none of whom are Mofaz, who are willing now or later to join the coalition. Kadima will not spilt tomorrow, say Netanyahu's aides, claiming he has no illusions about the opposition party; but what's wrong with having a loaded gun masquerading as the Mofaz Law, with which he can threaten this coalition partner or that when he needs it?
So Ya'alon retreated and Eitan voted in favor of the law he had so harshly attacked. But Eitan at least spoke his mind. It is impossible to demand he resign over this law. On Sunday, in a meeting of Likud ministers, Eitan asked to make clear that what he said to Haaretz was not meant to disparage Netanyahu.
Netanyahu responded with a story. He told his ministers of how Winston Churchill was once in the toilets in Parliament minding his own business, when an MP from his own party, who had attacked him in Parliament only a few days before, took a position next to him at the urinal. While standing next to each other, the MP apologized to Churchill for what he had accused him of in the Commons. I would prefer, said Churchill, if it was the opposite: Attack me in the loo and apologize in Parliament.