Open Zion

08.03.12

Bibi's Bad Week

It’s been a tough few days for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He’s been priming both the country and the international community for an attack on Iran for months, but early in the week it was reported that the IDF’s Chief of Staff and the head of the Mossad both oppose near-term unilateral action—an opinion echoed, significantly, by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The sense now is (in the words of +972 columnist Larry Derfner) that “it’s over—there will be no Israeli attack on Iran.”

Then on Thursday, this news struck:

Support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has plunged to an all-time low due to the economic diktats the government announced this week.

For the first time since Netanyahu set up his second government in April 2009, the proportion of survey respondents satisfied with his performance has fallen to just 31 percent, while 60 percent expressed dissatisfaction.

This has implications well beyond Netanyahu himself, however—as Globes reports, his entire party has taken a hit:

Likud has reached a low point of 27 projected seats in the Knesset if elections were held now…. In May, Netanyahu had 33 projected seats, an election date, and an assured outcome. Now, after the winding and venturesome path he has chosen, he is left with no date, fewer seats, and a much less predictable outcome.

… In the past two months, Netanyahu has embarked on several moves that have harmed his standing: the formation and dismantling of the unity government with Kadima; the vacillation over drafting of haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews) and over the replacement for the Tal law on the matter; the embarrassing, and failed, attempt to break up Kadima; and now the austerity measures that he is imposing on the Israeli public.

Which might explain why even members of his own party—including a government minister—are complaining to the press:

Senior Likud officials criticized the Finance Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new economic measures, expressing concern that the party may suffer serious electoral damage.

“For the past three years we've heard that everything is wonderful, yet suddenly we find that there's a NIS 30 billion (about $7.5 billion) gap in the budget. This means that things weren't as good as Netanyahu and [Finance Minister] Steinitz presented them," a top minister said on Thursday.

So all around, a bad week for the Prime Minister, his party, and intra-Likud dynamics. And pretty bad for the Israeli people, too.

According to Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich, “67% of the government’s planned tax increases are regressive," meaning that the poor will be hit the hardest—every single time they go to the grocery store, in fact, because of the across-the-board sales tax increase. This in a country already marked by social turmoil and dicey unemployment numbers, a county that ranks second after Mexico in poverty rates among OECD nations (the very same country, oddly enough, that recently approved sizeable tax breaks for settlement donors).

Usually when things are looking rough for Israeli politicians, they turn to security concerns to bolster their position in the eyes of the public—witness the efforts to derail the social just protests last summer when hostilities flared between Israel and Gaza.

But now Iran, the very fight for which Netanyahu has been preparing, has been all-but taken off the table, by the very people he was expecting to fight it.

In the absence of renewed battles in Lebanon or Gaza (which—given the history, the region, and the words of Israel’s own military leaders—are well within the realm of possibility), Netanyahu’s only real hope is to continue to do the one thing he’s been really good at since April 2009: Keeping the coalition together, with duct tape and spit if necessary.

But even if he does that, regular elections are scheduled for October 2013. I suspect the Prime Minister has got a few more bad days ahead of him.