Analysis

Israel Is Galloping Toward Elections, Guided by Insanity

Even if the final coalition blow-up is delayed, the election campaign season has for all intents and purposes begun.

Olivier Fitoussi

After a few days of multi-level crises and threats, apparently the most serious since the Netanyahu government was established 20 months ago, two basic facts emerged: 1. None of the coalition’s leaders – Lapid, Livni, Lieberman or Bennett – wants elections. The first two are even utterly terrified by the possibility; 2. The budget, the zero-VAT bill, health reforms and the nation-state bill are not the reasons for the crisis. They are symptoms. At the basis of the unexplained insanity now rattling the government are deep suspicions, lack of faith and mutual loathing.

A wander through the faction rooms on Monday revealed the hysteria visiting Israeli politics, which is ostensibly galloping toward elections.

In the Likud faction meeting room, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quoting passages from the Declaration of Independence to advertise his intention to present the nation-state bill to the cabinet Sunday. The cabinet’s approval will finally show the world who and what Israel is, but mainly, will strengthen Netanyahu among his power base, right-wing voters.

Sources in Likud postponed their meeting by 30 minutes to hear what the great enemy across the way, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, had to say to his faction, Yesh Atid. Lapid, looking a little frightened, said defensively that he had never stitched together an alternative coalition behind Netanyahu’s back as had been claimed, and that he had no interest in early elections. The message, which Lapid read from a prepared text, was meant for Netanyahu, who is convinced that Yesh Atid’s leader and his people are busier plotting against him than they are with the foundering budget.

Lapid’s statement came about after someone who saw his appearances on three TV channels the night before reported to Netanyahu that the finance minister equivocated in his denial that he had been trying to establish a “government of 61,” a creature that only a person as anxiety-prone as Netanyahu could believe feasible. The message was conveyed to Lapid and he knew what he had to do.

Now all Lapid has to do is persuade Netanyahu that he does not intend to break up the government after the approval of the budget and the zero-VAT bill for first-time apartment buyers. It must be said for Netanyahu that he has good reason to suspect Lapid. He hears the finance minister’s closest associate, MK Ofer Shelah, telling everyone he has had it with this coalition and ardently wishes to see his leader drag the faction’s 19 members out of it.

In Hatnuah’s faction room, its chairwoman, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, calmly announced that she had no intention of leaving the coalition if the cabinet approves, as expected, MK Zeev Elkin’s nation-state bill, which ignores the essence of Israel as a democratic state. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu’s chairman, like a veritable Cato the Elder, reiterates what is clear to all – that there is no need for elections now.

So even if the final blow-up is postponed for a few months, as it seemed on Monday it would be, the election campaign has for all intents and purposes begun. The date the polls open will be announced eventually, but what difference does that make. Nothing good will come from this government, and the next one might be even worse.