Winter of Discontent / Netanyahu's Leadership Is Collapsing

Netanyahu should have postponed the vote in order to give him time to talk to the coalition partners and win them over.

The snafu in Monday's cabinet meeting could easily have been prevented, if only the prime minister's aides had done their job - counted the fingers around the cabinet table in advance and talked to the party leaders.

Every novice parliamentary aide would have realized there was no majority for approving the Trajtenberg report and it was better to postpone the vote. This would have given Netanyahu time to talk to the coalition partners and win them over. The social change is already decades overdue. It could wait another week or two.

Netanyahu, Trajtenberg, Shalom
Mark Israel Salem

But in Netanyahu's office there are no soldiers, only strategists. The treasury officials also failed in the complicated mathematical mission - to calculate a majority and a minority among 29 ministers. The result was a totally unnecessary political disgrace for Netanyahu and his finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, who was sent like a lamb to the slaughter to explain the fiasco on live television broadcasts.

Netanyahu's failure yesterday is not merely technical. It is substantial and should set off all the alarms in his office. On the eve of the Knesset's winter term, the prime minister has learned that his coalition partners have a total disregard for him, his status, his leadership and his commitment to the public. All they care about is the voters. They heard him say at the beginning of the session that he will hold a vote on the report in any case, and shrugged, as though saying, so what?

Even Ehud Barak, who has no political existence without Netanyahu, refused to give Atzmaut ministers' four votes for the report. Barak is demanding reopening the budget and objects to slashing the security budget.

Shas is demanding a debate on public housing for the poor. Yisrael Beiteinu is insisting on a debate on its own economic plan, stressing it will not support all the clauses in the Trajtenberg report.

These are explosive materials, the stuff election campaigns are made of. Parts of the Trajtenberg report are to be submitted to the Knesset's approval this winter. What will remain of them?

In addition, three Likud ministers - Silvan Shalom, Yossi Peled and Moshe Kahlon - objected to the report. Kahlon, the social affairs minister, was against the report in the morning, in favor at midday and against it by evening. Peled and Shalom have several personal accounts to settle with Netanyahu. Yesterday morning at the Likud ministers' meeting, Shalom warned Netanyahu not to bring the report to a vote.

"If it fails to pass it could lead to elections," Shalom said. Netanyahu replied: "I wouldn't build up such hopes."

In the evening, Shalom did not hesitate to contribute his share to the collapse of Netanyahu's leadership.

Behind the scenes, Students Union chairman Itzik Shmueli has been pressuring ministers to postpone the vote, so that he and his colleagues could submit alternative proposals. Apparently this too had its effect on the ministers. They learned this summer that the students also wield considerable power.

Netanyahu had better enjoy every moment of the summer vacation ending this month. Yesterday's events in the cabinet were merely a bad omen of what he may expect in the Knesset's winter term. Avigdor Lieberman, who is holding the government for him, says this session will be "very interesting." Yesterday we had a taste of these interesting events.