Netanyahu to fire two moderate cabinet ministers. New elections? How will this impact peace process? Part I
Amidst internal squabbling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed two ministers and threatened to dissolve Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, triggering new elections within about three months. Given that Netanyahu’s poll numbers have been declining, and that even without new elections he still has two years left in his prime-ministership, this new move, if it stands, represents a real gamble. Netanyahu would be risking his leadership post on the chance that he could form a new coalition that would give him a stronger mandate to pursue his policies.
Israel, as many of you know, is one of the true democracies in the world. Almost every policy grievance births a new political party to run its list (candidates) in the next parliamentary election. Given the number of contenders, even parties with the most popular of candidates and policies fail to achieve a majority of the vote. As a result, coalitions of parties, even of diverse beliefs, are necessary to form a government.
In times of danger, when a military crisis is impending, the tradition of the country is for a unity government, in which all major parties participate. In the other times, there is a dispersion of the vote among many parties. This produces inevitable squabbling over different policy goals can, and usually does, create the dysfunctional mess that passes for a coalition government.
The two ministers that Netanyahu has “fired” (at least for the moment; “brinksmanship” to the extreme is a characteristic of nearly every country in the Middle-East) are the popular, and outspoken, Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and former television news anchor and talk show host, Yair Lapid. Tzipi Livni’s duties included being the “point man” in peace discussions with the Palestinians. She strongly supports the Two-State-Solution and environmental protection. Yair Lapid was currently championing that first-time home buyers be given a proposed tax break—a key element in his election platform.
For the past several weeks, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid have been vocally and publicly critical of Netanyahu on a variety of issues ranging from whether the VAT (value added tax) should be brought to zero, to planned expansion into the parts of East Jerusalem thought by many on the right to be lands of “natural expansion.”
However, it was their comments on a proposed bill that would define Israel as a Jewish State that brought things to a boil and led to Netanyahu’s dismissals. This proposed bill, which is in its early stages of parliamentary consideration is generally supported by the Israeli public, but it means quite different things to different segments of the population. To some, it is just a restatement of the earlier Zionist dream of having a Jewish State in Palestine, where oppressed Jews could come to. To others, mostly on the religious right, it would insure the Jewish character of Israel, in light of the rapid growth in population of its Arab citizens, by segregating the population in terms of suffrage rights. And there are an almost limitless number of opinions and variations of clauses in-between. It should be noted that this long proposed bill has yet to receive even a preliminary reading in the Knesset. Nevertheless, it is an important issue to Israelis, and one that evokes strong opinions. Lapid and Lipni have attacked, in public, Netanyahu’s views on this matter. And his response: “In past weeks, including the past day, ministers Lapid and Livni have harshly attacked the government that I head. I will no longer tolerate an opposition inside the government.”
End of Part I
Part II will continue next week.