Mofaz Takes His Trucks and Goes Home

Emily Hauser explains her lack of surprise at Mofaz and Netanyahu's dramatic split.

We learned today that the Israeli Uber-Coalition, a government supported by 94 of the Knesset’s 120 members, has fallen apart. I am hard-pressed to express much in the way of shock.

Shaul Mofaz, recently-elected head of the Kadima party, is taking his trucks and going home because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to come through on a promise to formulate a universal Israeli draft law, one which would include both Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and ultra-Orthodox Jews, a community currently allowed to study in yeshivas rather than pick up guns.

Leaving aside for the moment the advisability of such a law–the Palestinian-Israeli community has enormous reservations about being drafted into service by the Jewish State, for instance, even if the draft is broadened to include non-military national service, and the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community is well-known for often failing to provide its children with many of the educational basics so necessary to taking part in any essentially secular endeavor–the simple fact of the matter is that nothing in Netanyahu’s political history indicates that he is a man to take bold, controversial action or risk any damage to his position of power within Israel’s political system. The notion that he was going to start bordered on absurd.

The Kadima-Netanyahu deal was struck in the wee hours of the night on May 8, just as the Prime Minister’s own party (Likud) was preparing to break up the previous coalition and call for early elections, in the hope that they might get a slightly broader coalition this time around.

Polls had indicated, however, that Likud wasn’t likely to pick up any votes, and meanwhile Kadima (a make-shift party formed in 2005 by former Prime Minister and Likud-party strongman Ariel Sharon) had lost enormous ground among Israeli voters, polling at less than half the support it won in the last elections.

Both Netanyahu and Mofaz had excellent reasons for wanting to buy some time (and try to claw away some of the support building for a third candidate, the charismatic Yair Lapid), and opinion polling consistently indicates that the vast majority of Israeli Jews want to see the ultra-Orthodox drafted. With the promise of a renewed effort on that front, the two party heads were able to announce that they were going to make a go of it, and give the impression that the effort wasn’t nearly surrealistic.

But the fact is that it was nearly surrealistic. Even as a marriage of convenience, the Likud-Kadima marriage never made much sense.

Netanyahu’s obsessed with selling the world on the dangers posed by an Iranian nuclear program, often presenting the threat to Israel in Holocaust terms; Mofaz, on the other hand, said quite bluntly in an interview with the New York Times in April that “The greatest threat to the state of Israel is not nuclear Iran.” Indeed, the day before he joined Netanyahu’s government, Mofaz said that the Prime Minister and Defense Minister Barak were “sabotaging the strategic bond between Israel and the United States” over the Iran issue.

Mofaz has also said that “it is in Israel’s interest that a Palestinian state be created”—whereas Netanyahu continues to do everything he can to scuttle, or at least put off indefinitely, the possibility of a two-state peace.

And then there’s the little fact that Mofaz had previously said—repeatedly, and in a variety of forums–that he would never, ever join a Netanyahu government.

And finally, even had the coalition lasted, it would have only lasted until October 2013, when regular elections were scheduled.

Israeli governments so rarely manage to survive an entire four year term that it’s easy to forget that terms exist. But no matter what he did with Mofaz, Netanyahu knew that he would be facing voters again very shortly—and, more to the point, if elected, once again having to build a coalition with Israel’s kingmakers, the ultra-Orthodox.

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Netanyahu has done very, very little for the Israeli people since being elected—he has neither moved the peace process forward, nor acted to resolve the many social issues roiling Israeli civil society today—but he has managed to keep his coalition together.

That has required keeping the far-right settler movement (whose opinions on the conflict he appears to share) happy, and ceding more and more ground to the ultra-Orthodox (whose faith he apparently does not). Had he achieved what he promised Mofaz, he would have lost the latter entirely.

Netanyahu may be many things that I don’t like–opportunistic, for instance. A dissembler. Apparently uninterested in the humanity of the people Israel occupies.

But stupid he is not.

He bought his government 70 more days with this maneuver. The idea that he might have accomplished anything else should never have been taken seriously.