Netanyahu didn’t throw them out because of a sudden feeling of remorse over the damage done to the religious community. He didn’t call for new elections because he wanted to bring the country together in a time that it faces serious threats. He did it because when they finished with the chareidim they turned on him, and that was too much to bear.
Weeks of rumors and indications that new elections were on the way were proven correct on Tuesday evening when Netanyahu announced that he was firing Ministers Lapid and Livni.
In an address to the nation, he announced that he was dissolving the Knesset and arranging elections as soon as possible.
For chareidim this presents an opportunity to right the many wrongs which have been perpetrated over the life of this government. After two years in the opposition, where they watched helplessly as Finance Minister Yair Lapid enacted decree after decree against the Torah world, if they can return unity to their camp and run a proper campaign, the chareidi parties have a chance to return to the ruling coalition and undo some of Lapid’s depredations. Infighting and splinter parties robbed the chareidi parties of several seats in the Knesset.
REBELS IN THE RANKS
In his speech Tuesday, Netanyahu explained he had lost all hope of retaining control over the rebels in his ranks.
“In the present circumstances, it is impossible to govern the country,” he said. “I have decided to take action and dissolve the Knesset, and go for elections as soon as possible. We must have quick elections.”
Netanyahu berated Ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, accusing them of trying to create a new government under his nose in a “putsch,” or coup, a secretly plotted and suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government.
“They tried to overthrow me. The government was under constant threats and ultimatums. The country cannot be run in the current situation. Elections are not a good thing, but a government that is attacked from inside is seven times as bad.”
“The present government was forced upon me due to the results of the elections,” he said. “The Likud party did not have sufficient mandates [to form a coalition with its preferred partners]. From the first moment, there were unnecessary frictions in the government.”
With an eye on the next elections, Netanyahu paused in his criticism and paradoxically went on to praise the very same government he was throwing out.
“I believe that this was one of the best and most stable governments in the history of Israel,” he said. “It invalidated no sector among the people. It was a truly united government and it achieved a lot: Roads, interchanges, trains, bridges, a separation fence in the south which completely stopped infiltration, free education from the age of three, cell phone reforms, the establishment of a medical school in the Galil; all these and many other things while investing immense effort to prevent Iran from actualizing her nuclear plan.”
However, Netanyahu was careful to mention that these achievements were despite, and not because of, the government.
“I must tell you that with the present government it was far harder to do things for the public good,” he went on. “Together with the defense minister and chief of staff, I indeed led the Protective Edge operation harmoniously, acting with judgment and determination while I paid no attention to any shouting and background noise, [but] with this government it was far more difficult.”
Netanyahu blasted Ministers Lapid and Livni and complained of their opposition to his “irresponsible” building over the Green Line, particularly in Yerushalayim.
“[Livni] is the last person who can preach about responsibility,” he said. “In May this year, she met Abu Mazen in absolute contradiction to a cabinet decision not to meet [him] at that time, and contrary to my explicit instructions not to hold the meeting. Afterwards, she added, while still serving as Minister of Justice in the government, ‘Netanyahu’s embargo against Abu Mazen is stupid.’ Today, a short while ago, she again attacked the government that I lead.”
Netanyahu accused Lapid and Livni of trying to depose him. “Lapid and Livni have one thing in common in their leadership,” he said. “They boast of new [ethical] politics, but in fact, they practice old [immoral] politics. In the past weeks they participated in attempts to persuade the chareidi parties to kick out the prime minister while they were still sitting in the government. The finance minister [Lapid], who failed in his direction of the economy, made a secret compact with the justice minister [Livni] against the incumbent prime minister; in one word, this is called a putsch. It’s impossible to run a government like this.”
Asked by reporters whether he had made any deal with the chareidim regarding new elections, Netanyahu denied this ever happened, but accused Lapid of planning to do that in a plot to form a new government which would include the chareidim, Yesh Atid and Labor.
“I have no agreement with the chareidim,” Netanyahu said. “I have made no agreement with them. I haven’t cut any deal with them. The person who accuses me of this (Lapid) is the one who did so. Lapid tried it with the same chareidim he supposedly turns down in public. No alternative government could come from the side of Lapid and Buzi [Isaac] Herzog without the chareidim. This is clear as the sun.”
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Shas Chairman MK Arye Deri indeed hinted, as Netanyahu accused in his press conference, that certain parties had attempted to bring chareidi parties into a new coalition that would not include Likud. While insisting that Shas never cut a deal with Netanyahu, Deri said there were “two deals, from the right and the left.”
“Yesterday, there was another attempt to convince me not to go to elections and to establish a government without Netanyahu,” Deri said. “We said all the time that there would only be an alternative government after elections.”
INVITATION TO THE CHAREIDI PARTIES
Despite chareidi rejection of Netanyahu’s invitation to join his present coalition or to promise to recommend him as prime minister in future elections, Netanyahu stated at his press conference that he was not averse to any parties joining a future government.
“I wanted to recreate the broad government we made in 2009,” he said. “I called again for a broad government [including the chareidim] during Operation Protective Edge, and I called for it again after the terrible attack that occurred in a shul. I am intent on bringing the different sectors of the people into the government.” He said that keeping chareidim out of the government as a matter of principle as Lapid insisted as a condition for joining, to which he complied, in the present government, is “an invalid principle.”
Asked by reporters whether he intended to cancel the section of the chareidi draft law which defines draft dodging as a criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence, Netanyahu concluded the conference with a nod to the chareidi world, stating, “I do not think that avreichim who learn Torah need to go to jail. As far as it depends upon me, I oppose the criminal sanctions placed on bnei yeshivos.”
Netanyahu’s press conference spelled the end of his five-party governing coalition, providing the chareidim a chance to enter the new government in elections, which will likely take place in March.
BACKDROP TO THE DENOUNCEMENT
Coalition breakups are not unusual in Israel, where nine out of the past ten Knessets disintegrated once coalitions became unglued. But this week’s breakup was immature, coming after only 20 months, while the average Knesset lasted around three years.
Netanyahu’s final denouncement followed weeks of uncertainty during which he constantly hinted that his coalition was reaching the snapping point due to conflict over the Jewish State Law he was trying to push through and violent disagreements over the budget. The Likud accused Finance Minister Lapid of trying, but failing, to oust Netanyahu and form a coalition government headed by himself.
On Monday, amidst increased criticism from hostile coalition ministers, Netanyahu warned that unless the government functioned “harmoniously,” he would opt for elections in a couple months.
“My diplomatic policies are constantly attacked, where even construction in Jerusalem becomes a controversial issue,” he complained. “…I have not received even the most basic obligation – the loyalty and responsibility of ministers to the government in which they serve.”
During a meeting with Lapid on Monday night, their first meeting in over a month, Netanyahu threw down the gauntlet, demanding that Lapid accept five conditions, which Lapid promptly rejected. The meeting was either a last ditch attempt on Netanyahu’s part to save the coalition, or a cunning strategy to push Lapid off the edge.
After the meeting, Netanyahu’s office announced that the prime minister told Lapid that “the government cannot be maintained in a reality where he [Lapid] and his party incessantly attack the government in which they themselves are members.”
Netanyahu also informed Lapid, the prime minister’s office said, that Lapid had to comply with five demands.
These included first, that he “stop undermining and lashing out at the government of which he is a member,” in particular in regard to Israel’s building plans in Yerushalayim and its relations with the United States. Secondly, as finance minister, Lapid was to transfer 6 billion shekels to the defense budget. Third, Lapid was to provide funds that the army needs to relocate most of its training bases to the Negev. Netanyahu’s fourth demand was for Lapid to back Netanyahu’s milder version of the controversial Jewish State Legislation, which liberal circles condemn as discriminatory against Israeli Arabs. Finally, Finance Minister Lapid was to lay aside his much loved 0% VAT housing plan, which economists have branded as ridiculous. Instead, “with the NIS 3 billion that will be freed up annually [by scrapping Lapid’s plan],” Lapid would finance “real housing solutions that will lower, rather than rais,e the price of housing, for example, reducing the sales tax on basic food staples.”
Sources in Lapid and Livni’s parties charged that Netanyahu knew the five demands were impossible and was planning to torpedo Lapid all along in order to bring chareidi parties into the government. They are ramping up their anti-chareidi rhetoric as they prepare for elections. According to them anything that goes wrong in the country is fault of the religious community. But after the meeting, Netanyahu issued a statement defending his ultimatum and shooting down their claims.
“The citizens of Israel vested me with responsibility, and with the current government it is impossible to manage the country as the citizens of Israel expect that we do,” he announced. “If the unprecedented conduct of some of the cabinet ministers persists there will be no choice but to seek the voter’s trust once again. This isn’t the option that I favor, but a far worse option will be the continued existence of a cabinet whose ministers sabotage the government’s actions and policy against the public’s interest.”
After the Netanyahu/Lapid meeting, Shas leader Aryeh Deri called upon all party leaders “to immediately gather and reach an agreement for the earliest possible date to hold elections.” This contributed to Netanyahu’s decision to dissolve the government, for without chareidi support, he had little or no chance of cobbling together a new coalition. The chareidim have been seriously impacted by this government and want to have no part in having anything to do with providing it with life support.
Shas chairman Aryeh Deri took the opportunity to point out conditions for entering any new government. These included cutting 18% VAT on many basic groceries, raising the minimum wage to 30 shekel an hour, altering the chareidi enlistment law, restoring the funds to chareidi schools and institutions, and cancelling Lapid’s 0% VAT housing program, which discriminates against chareidim.
Deri’s heavy stress on social reforms reflected Shas’s concern to retain less committed voters from the lower social echelons, who until now voted for the party due to their devotion to Rav Ovadiah Yosef. They now need to be kept in the party by Shas’s longstanding policy of engendering social reforms.
LAPID FIGHTS BACK
Self-righteous to the end, Lapid said “It pains us that the prime minister decided to act irresponsibly and drag Israel for petty political reasons to unnecessary elections that will harm the economy,” as if he cared about the economy or did anything to help it.
Unwilling to bow down to Netanyahu’s demands, Lapid resorted to criticism, saying that new elections were an unnecessary waste of resources and again, blaming the chareidim for the whole debacle.
“The Prime Minister decided last night to lead Israel into unnecessary elections,” Lapid said. “He is dragging the country into this without a need to do so, only so that he could strike a deal with the chareidi parties. This is an inexcusable national irresponsibility.”
“We could add funds to the social budget, add billions to education, health, welfare, internal security, provide a boost to the national housing program on the grand scale… and give young couples a discount of more than 200,000 shekels with the 0% VAT law and through price controls,” he added. “This budget would also see the additions of billions to the IDF and Defense establishment.”
“The Israeli public will have to decide where it wants to go,” Lapid declared. “Does the public want, as MK [Yaakov] Litzman from United Torah Judaism said, ‘to turn back the clock,’ or does it want to continue on the path we have started — to clean up the country, to change the country, to return the country to the hands of its citizens.”
Lapid concluded by laying blame on the chareidim.
“Instead of lowering the cost of living, transferring funds to social causes, improve the salaries of the middle class and helping the disadvantaged – the Prime Minister would rather raise taxes and pay shekels from the Israeli middle class into the chareidi parties’ pockets.”
As part of a deal with the chareidim, Lapid charged, Netanyahu had promised to jettison much of the chareidi draft law, turn about the decrease in yeshiva budgeting, and slow down the fight to introduce a core curriculum into chareidi education.
Well aware that Lapid might try to ride into new elections on the coat tails of anti-chareidi rhetoric as he did the last time round, Shas and UTJ steadfastly refused to cut any deals with Netanyahu in joining the existing coalition, nor would they promise to recommend him as prime minister in new elections.
Their refusal to support Netanyahu was to teach him that after ruthlessly throwing aside the chareidim who were his faithful partners ever since he gained power, in favor of the upstart Lapid, he could not pick them up again whenever it suited him.
“Everyone understands that the upcoming elections have nothing to do with chareidim,” MK Moshe Gafni said in response to Lapid’s charge that Netanyahu and the chareidim were in cahoots. “Let Yair Lapid explain to the public what he has done as a Finance Minister and head of a party of 19 mandates for the past two years. The chareidi public is not in on this game. The nation has already learned this and will not accept recycled claims that have no basis. There is a failure in everything he’s done and the nation will say its word.”
Coalition chairman MK Ze’ev Elkin appealed to Lapid to accept Netanyahu’s five demands and “not drag the people to elections,” but to no avail.
Meanwhile, in response to Lapid’s accusations against Netanyahu, the Likud party issued a statement that, “Yair Lapid failed miserably in his handling of the economy, preventing the transfer of a responsible defense budget to the IDF, torpedoing the move of IDF bases to the Negev, and advancing the 0% VAT bill, which is a complete fiction and won’t lower housing costs.”
MTJ MK Uri Maklev denied that his party had ever agreed to enter into a deal with Netanyahu. “Talk about agreements and guarantees of support are not serious,” Maklev said. “That type of agreement can be worked out only through negotiations after elections.”
“What would happen if we said we were going to support him as prime minister after the elections and then his promises aren’t fulfilled in coalition negations? We will not support him as prime minister if our requirements aren’t met, so there is no purpose in making any premature promises?” Maklev said.
In fact it was reported that Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, told the UTJ MKs not to make any promises that they would recommend to the president that Netanyahu form the government after the elections. In Israel, the president chooses which party has the best ability of forming a coalition. The present president, Reuvein Rivlin, formerly a Likud MK, has had serious disagreements with Netanyahu.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog took advantage of the turbulent atmosphere to announce that the people “have no trust in this government,” that “elections should take place as soon as possible,” and he proclaimd his certainty that he would serve as Israel’s next prime minister. That is far from certain.
LAPID AND LIVNI FIRED
After meeting Netanyahu for a discussion about whether to have early elections, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that it was time for Israel to make a new start.
“At the end of the discussion with Netanyahu it was decided to have elections,” she said. “There are two different paths — Zionism versus extremism, this is what the elections will be about. “Elkin and Danon have seized control of the Likud, a party that was once Zionist and ethical, and the integration with Bennett made its policies impossible even for me. Yesterday at midnight it was already clear that we are heading for elections. Netanyahu and I came from the same political home, but each of us took it to another place. I believe I represent the values that Begin represented in the past and certainly Jabotinsky – National Zionist values in the spirit of Israel’s Charter of Independence.”
On Tuesday afternoon before making his announcement to dissolve the government, Netanyahu instructed Knesset Secretary Avichai Mandelblit to issue dismissal letters to Ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni. Sources close to him said that this was to preempt them from resigning on their own accord.
In response, the ministers of Yesh Atid including Education Minister Shai Piron, Health Minister Yael German, Minister of Social Affairs Meir Cohen, and Science Minister Yaakov Peri announced their resignations.
Meanwhile, MKs Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman of UTJ met to plan strategies for the new elections, finalizing an agreement that UTJ’s list of MKs would remain the same as it is in the present government. Shas had a similar meeting.
“Despite all the anguish, pain and waste of money, I am pleased that there will be new elections because the present government is boastful, haughty, close minded, and cruel,” Aryeh Deri told the Shas Knesset members.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett is now trying to undo the damage he has wrought to the country. In closed talks, Bennett said his covenant with Lapid was “a serious error which I would not repeat today and will not repeat in the future.” He added that Netanyahu had decided to break up the coalition due to criticism Lapid and Livni leveled at his policies while they were visiting the United States.”
Netanyahu’s breakup of the government canceled two separate motions to vote for the dissolving of the government on Wednesday, one from Labor and Meretz, and another from the chareidi parties.
Polls indicate that Likud would maintain its strength in new elections and have 22 seats in the new Knesset; Bayit Yehudi would be the second-largest party with 17 seats, labor would go down to 13, Likud renegade Moshe Kachlon is expected to open a party which would have 12 seats, taking many of the traditional Shas voters, Yisroel Beiteinu would have 12; Lapid would sink to 9, Yahudus hatorah would rise to 8; Shas is predicted to have anywhere from 7 to 10; Meretz would have 7; Livni’s party would win 4 seats, the rest would go to Arab parties.
And in case you’re interested, Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment on the “internal politics” of Israel. “But obviously, we hope that whatever government is formed – or whether there are elections, that those elections will produce – the possibility of a government that can negotiate and move toward resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.