TEL AVIV - Many years ago, when he had just been elected prime minister and was still promising voters to introduce “the dawn of a new day”, Ehud Barak used to say that a political move that is “morally defective” is bound to ultimately end in failure.
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That prognosis will be put to the ultimate test in the coming weeks and months as one of the most stupendously cynical acts of political subterfuge in Israeli history yields a mammoth and supposedly invincible 94-member strong “national unity government” that will rule Israel until the scheduled elections in October 2013. If Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz succeed in pulling off their master-ploy, it will signal a resounding victory for schemery over integrity and probably crush the naiveté of those few remaining Israelis who still insist that politicians should be taken at their word.
“A foreigner wouldn’t understand it,” as the popular Hebrew saying goes, and who could blame him (or her)? What political system in the world enables an overwhelming majority of its parliament to vote for new elections while its own leaders are engaged in back room conniving aimed at achieving the complete opposite? Where else can politicians and pundits engage for days in analyzing a fait accompli that turns out to be a fleeting figment of imagination? How to explain a politician who swears by his mother’s grave that he would never dream of doing something that he is doing at that very moment? And were else does the public have the wool so thoroughly and so purposely pulled over its eyes yet still believe that it’s all for the better?
Only in Israel. Because most Israelis, after all, couldn’t comprehend the rush for early elections in the first place; and a warm and cuddly and division-free “national unity” is a perennial sweet dream of the Israeli public; and because a broad-based coalition is a prerequisite for any broad reforms, whether they be in the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox to the IDF or in a makeover of Israel’s electoral system; and because if there is going to be war in Iran, better to be ensconced in a solid, unifying coalition than in the midst of an unruly election campaign that would divide the country at the worst possible time.
And because, in the final analysis, most Israelis are far more inclined to adhere to another, contradictory maxim formulated many years ago by the same Ehud Barak, by which the only thing that matters in political life is the “test of results.” Thus, the new Likud-Kadima coalition and the “morality” of the clandestine agreement that gave it birth will be judged, in the final analysis, only by its bottom line and by the question whether it produced the advantages it purported to create.
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Will the new government institute any real reforms in IDF recruitment or in the constitutional system, or will it back down, like its presumptive predecessors, for fear of future retribution by the ultra-Orthodox “kingmakers”? Will this coalition produce greater stability or, on the contrary, will its gargantuan size erode parliamentary discipline from its fringes inwards and ultimately lead to chaos? And will the government strive to institute real change or will the upcoming elections – which, in any case, are not too far off in the horizon – turn the government into a substitute arena for pre-election jockeying and propaganda? And might the Netanyhau-Mofaz agreement signal a welcome consolidation of the Israeli political arena into two distinct political groups, right and left, or actually spawn greater fragmentation in the months to come?
Israeli pundits and commentators were quick to crown the winners and losers of this grand Machiavellian scheme, with the clear cut victors being prime minister Netanyahu, who gained at least another year in office, and Mofaz, who avoided what seemed to be impending political extinction. The rising star of Israeli politics, Yair Lapid, as well as the outgoing and supposedly incoming queen of the Israeli center, Tzipi Livni, were labeled as the clear losers who may now lose much of their luster in the extra-parliamentary waiting room. Labor leader Shelly Yachimovitch was left hanging in in the balance, with some saying that the latest move has arrested her rise in the polls but others predicting her resurgence in her new role – if she lands it - as the formal head of Israeli opposition.
In the annals of Israeli politics, there are two famous schemes that have gained iconic status: one is known as the “stinking ploy,” in which Labor leader Shimon Peres tried in 1990 to set up a narrow government with the ultra-Orthodox while still serving as the senior partner in a national unity government with the Likud; and the other is the “brilliant ploy” in which then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in December, 1976 preempted a move by his coalition partners to bolt the ruling coalition by handing in his own resignation and forcing new elections.
The common denominator of both stratagems, widely admired at the time by their own concocters, is that they produced the opposite results of those intended: Peres’ move in 1990 effectively ended his reign at the head of the Labor party while Rabin’s in 1976 ultimately brought about his own downfall and the rise of the Likud. “Only time will tell,” as the commentators like to say when they haven’t the faintest idea, whether Netanyahu’s granddaddy of all political ploys will end in the same way as its notorious predecessors or whether, this time around, such a cunning, crafty and absolutely self-serving political deceit will finally pay off.