everybody, including me, sees in this primarily what they want to see

New Israel Partner Offers Moderate Voice on Iran
Isabel Kershner, NYT, May 8, 2012

Less than two weeks ago, retired Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin carried out a blistering verbal assault on Netanyahu and Barak, questioning their judgment in handling what they regard as an Iranian nuclear threat and accusing them of making decisions “based on messianic feelings.” On Tuesday, as Netanyahu stood shoulder to shoulder with Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and military chief of staff and now the leader of the centrist Kadima Party, and welcomed him into the governing coalition, it was as if the prime minister was offering some kind of response, especially for a jittery Israeli public generally averse to a lone Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. While Netanyahu and Barak have presented an aggressive stance against Iran, Mofaz is regarded as a more moderate voice who opposes any rush into military action. After becoming head of the opposition in March, he said in a television interview that an early attack on Iran could be “disastrous” and bring “limited results.” Denouncing what he saw as the government’s Iran-centric policy to the detriment of the peace process with the Palestinians, Mofaz (who is Iranian-born) also said in an interview in April:

The greatest threat to the state of Israel is not a nuclear Iran.

Asked at a news conference on Tuesday about their differences on Iran, Netanyahu said that their discussions “are serious, and will be serious and responsible.” Often referring to himself and Mofaz as judicious people, he spoke with an air of gravitas. Many politicians and analysts argued that far from signaling any change in Israeli policy toward Iran, the inclusion of Mofaz and Kadima in the coalition would strengthen Netanyahu’s hand. Yisrael Katz, the minister of transportation, told Israel Radio:

If I were Ahmadinejad, I would be worried, because from today the state of Israel will be more united, both in its ability to deter and also, if necessary, in its ability to act.

Ayoob Kara, a Likud Party deputy minister, said:

We need a strong government to deal with Iran. If we are in consensus in Israel, it gives us more power.

Einat Wilf, a legislator from Barak’s small Independence faction, said:

It is essential to keep the threat of a military option on the table, and with a broad Israeli consensus, the credibility is higher. Personal attacks and differences in language aside, there is broad agreement in Israel on what needs to be done about Iran. Everyone is saying they would prefer the sanctions to work, backed up with the threat of a credible military option. Only if all else fails should Israel act alone. Everyone is saying the same thing, though there may be a difference of tone.

Netanyahu, by broadening his coalition and thereby averting early elections, has bought himself more time and government stability. Since Barak’s faction might not have won any seats in the next Parliament, the extension is Netanyahu’s surest way of keeping his defense minister. David Makovsky of WINEP said in a telephone interview:

I think it enables him to keep Iran on the front burner. It suddenly buys him quiet for a year and a half. He’s able to unite the country easier around the course of action if he incorporates his chief opposition party.

But with polls showing that Kadima could lose more than half its 28 parliamentary seats in an early election, Mofaz’s influence in the government will probably be circumscribed. Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said:

Such weakness means that his impact on the government’s Iran policy and narrative is likely to be limited.

Although Netanyahu has used almost every platform to warn of what he calls the dangers to Israel and the world of a nuclear Iran, neither he nor Mofaz referred to the issue directly on Tuesday as they introduced their partnership at a news conference in the Parliament building. Nachman Shai, a legislator who attended Mofaz’s overnight meeting with Kadima Parliament members about his surprise deal with Netanyahu, said:

He did not mention Iran. But it is always there, somewhere on the horizon.

Israel’s back-room deal strengthens an authoritarian trend
Jonathan Cook, UAE National, May 9 2012 (extract)

Shaul Mofaz, who last month defeated Tzipi Livni to become the head of the centrist Kadima party, is a hawkish former army chief of staff who is seen as both lacklustre and power-hungry as a politician. Kadima, which has remained ideologically close to the Likud, from which it split several years ago, is currently the largest faction in the parliament. But polls suggested Mofaz would lead it to electoral oblivion. The deal will win him a temporary reprieve. There was little need for Netanyahu to bring Kadima into the coalition. He was racing ahead in the polls, his popularity outstripping that of all the other major party leaders combined. But there are advantages for him in postponing an election he was expected to win. At the moment, his government is defying a series of Supreme Court rulings to dismantle several West Bank outposts. Netanyahu has been behind a series of measures to weaken the media, human rights groups and the courts. An uninterrupted year and a half will allow him to further undermine rival centres of power. One of the promises he and Mofaz made yesterday was to overhaul the system of government. In addition, the new coalition will face an all but non-existent parliamentary opposition: a shrivelled centre-left of the Labor and Meretz parties, with only a handful of seats; a few ultra-nationalists who would be more trouble in government than Netanyahu needs; and the Arab parties, who are reviled by the Jewish public and politicians alike. Labor’s new leader, Shelly Yacimovich, was expected to partially revive the party’s fortunes on the back of the protests and be joined in a potentially serious opposition by a new centrist party headed by Yair Lapid. Now both are relegated to the political margins. Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu party, whom Netanyahu fears most as a challenger, has also been defanged. His current, pivotal role in the coalition will be diminished by the presence of Kadima. Another bonus for Netayahu is that he is now better situated to see off the potentially dangerous early days of a second Obama term in November. Should Obama choose a fight on the Palestinian issue, he will be facing a prime minister whose position in Israel is unassailable.

Netanyahu’s next Israel (extract)
Bradley Burston, Haaretz, May 8 2012

There was something in Netanyahu’s eyes Sunday night, as he suffered the selective enthusiasm and politely delayed booing of his Likud party convention, that suggested that if anyone was going to slip the rug on the people of Israel, he was going to make sure that the source of the pull would be the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu’s decision to keep his friends close and his opposition closer, devolves from his intimate knowledge of three of the cardinal rules of Israeli politics. (1) Only the right can topple the right. (2) The right doesn’t trust Bibi any farther than it can coerce and blackmail him. (3) For that reason, Netanyahu cannot know who his friends are. He saw it best in the understated lynch mob atmosphere of the Likud gathering. Hundreds packing the hall, loudly, proudly undermining Netanyahu. For decades, the Likud central committee was a raucous, riotous, chair-hurling carnival of party loyalists who would do anything to get their man elected. The key word here was loyalist. Begin was not their party chairman. He was their King. They sang it as loudly as the national anthem. Much louder, in fact. As they did for Ariel Sharon after him. But this crowd, this week, in this next Israel, booed, howled, demanded that a candidate of the new right and the settlement-or-bust movements be allowed to challenge Netanyahu. And this from a group of delegates that packed the hall, many of whom don’t even intend to vote in actual elections for a party as bourgeois-centrist and undogmatic as the Likud has become.

A broader government, a government which is less malleable, less amenable to leverage, is not good news for the right. But a government in which, to survive politically, Mofaz and the 28-strong Kadima faction will have to try to shift the aircraft-carrier toward the center, toward the consensus of the Israeli electorate, may well be good news for Israel’s future. If this government, if only to justify its existence, acts on Mofaz and Netanyahu’s pledge to change the system of government, to one more stable and less vulnerable to emotional and sectarian blackmail, this will also mean bad news for the right, but good news for Israel as a whole. The hard right is still bleeding and seething from the wounds of Likud-led withdrawals from territory captured in 1967. It was a Likud prime minister who betrayed them in 1979 and dismantled settlements in Sinai. It was a Likud prime minister who betrayed them in 2005, demolishing settlements in Gaza and in the northern West Bank. Then, on Monday, the High Court, whom the right believed it had managed to pack with jurists sympathetic to the settlements, slapped the government for trying to duck and weave explicit court orders to demolish illegal settlements. Suddenly, Netanyahu was facing a September election in which, in July and again in August, his government would face the potential political catastrophe of evacuating Migron, the Alamo of Mateh Binyamin, as well as the tidy, suburban Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El, one of the ideological strongholds of the settler movement. For the moment, Netanyahu may have put shifted his settler problem to the back burner. Now, all he has to deal with, is everyone else.

How Likud-Kadima deal strengthens Netanyahu’s hand
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, May 8 2012 (extract)

Until now, Netanyahu’s chief coalition partner was Yisrael Beitenu. Its leader, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, had threatened to pull the plug on the government over the deeply unpopular Tal Law under which ultra-orthodox Jews are exempt from compulsory military service. The secular Lieberman demanded radical reform. But Netanyahu was also in hock to small right-wing religious parties, who were fighting hard to maintain the exemption. Now the prime minister can back reform without fear of the political consequences. A further factor was the growing influence within his own party, Likud, of a militant pro-settler bloc prepared to do battle over the demolition of West Bank outposts declared illegal by the supreme court. With Kadima, the biggest party in the parliament with 28 seats, inside the coalition, Netanyahu has much more wiggle room. At the same time, cancelling September’s election has robbed the centre-left of the chance to make substantial gains. The Labour party was predicted to more than double its number of seats to around 17, and Yair Lapid’s fledgling Yesh Atid party was on course to win around 12 seats. Those gains would have been at the expense of Kadima, whose ratings had plummeted since the election of Mofaz as leader in March.

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