Analysis |

Netanyahu's Antidote Ignores Israel's Ills

At Likud campaign launch, Netanyahu pushed plan to alter the system of government – one he previously rejected – without addressing any painful issues.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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PM Netanyahu at event launching Likud election campaign, on Jan. 5, 2015.
PM Netanyahu at event launching Likud election campaign, on Jan. 5, 2015.Credit: David Bachar
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The millions of Israelis struggling to find housing and to be able to heat their homes on these cold nights were certainly thrilled Monday evening to snuggle under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s festive promise to advance a proposal to change Israel's system of government within the first 100 days of his next term. According to the proposal, the head of the largest party will be the one to cobble the government together – ostensibly one that will stay in power for four years.

It turns out – how did we not know this? – that this is the antidote to all illnesses, the prescription for all ailments, and Netanyahu’s main message to Israel's citizens in the 2015 elections. Along with, of course, the standard brandishing of the same old, worn-out threats, on one hand – Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, plus the new addition of the Islamic State – and the sneering at the “left” and its leaders, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, on the other.

This is an example of citing the “positive” versus the “negative,” to use campaign-speak. The prime minister doesn’t dare touch the painful and sensitive issue of the cost of living or housing prices, lest he be burned: That could easily boomerang on him. Therefore, to try to revive the pretext for his decision to call this early election – the problem of “governability” – he chose the issue of changing the system of government as the Likud’s key motif for this campaign.

But anyone whose memory is fresh surely hasn’t forgotten how Likud, under Netanyahu’s leadership, vehemently opposed this very same bill when the Olmert government tried to pass it in 2007. And we needn’t even go back that far: A promise to change Israel’s substandard system of government appears in the current government’s guidelines, as well as those of the previous one, which Netanyahu also led.

Thus, this same refrain has in effect been sung by him ever since he entered politics. But since then, he has spent nine years as prime minister. So who kept him from implementing this welcome change during his first term, or during the current one – or during the previous one, when, as we all recall, he commanded an absolute majority in his cabinet?

And anyone whose memory hasn’t betrayed him also surely hasn’t forgotten the key campaign promises Netanyahu made in 2012: to appoint Moshe Kahlon – who had just resigned from the cabinet but had not yet left Likud – as head of the Israel Lands Administration, and to keep the Housing and Construction Ministry in Likud hands.

Netanyahu was apparently forced to go back to the year 2000, and take a line from his archive of optimistic quotes – specifically, from former President Shimon Peres and author Amos Oz, about the “new” Middle East and the benefits of disengaging from Lebanon. By using Peres and Oz, Netanyahu tried, awkwardly, to take pot shots at Herzog and Livni. If that’s the most relevant political ammunition he’s got, he’s in trouble.

Netanyahu decided to unveil his plan to change the government model at the event on Sunday in Tel Aviv, where he announced the Likud’s new Knesset slate. The party is still licking its wounds and trying to hide its embarrassment following an endless number of mistakes (in the best case scenario) that characterized and continue to characterize the Likud circus of a primary that took place last week.

At the exact same time, MK Moshe Feiglin, head of the Jewish Leadership faction within the Likud, announced at his own rally that he was leaving the party after dropping to a low spot on the new Knesset slate. This was good news for Netanyahu, accomplishing more than any weak or uninspired speech he could have made. Maybe now Likud will revert back to its old self, and clean itself up a bit.

An hour before his speech at the Likud event, Netanyahu confidants made it known that changing the country's model of government would be a necessary “condition” for him to form the next coalition, should he be given the chance to do so.

The way things seem now, even if he does get the opportunity to do that, it’s unlikely Netanyahu will be able to impose conditions on his coalition partners. It’s much more possible that he’ll be forced to chase after such partners – and give into their demands instead.

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