Like Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu has been pushed to the center

Finally we have a government representing the Israeli majority, a government that no niche party can extort. Finally we have a government with a clear Zionist majority.


There’s one thing Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t like being, and that’s a Thanksgiving stuffed turkey. On Sunday night, at the Likud convention, Netanyahu started to feel like a stuffed turkey. The disruption by the right-wing lunatic fringe at the central event of the ruling party made the prime minister realize what he should have understood long ago: Likud has lost its mind.

And since Likud has lost its mind there was a real danger that it would do poorly in an election and he would be unable to put together a strong government afterward. And since Likud has lost its mind the great plan of election-before-Obama and election-before-Iran crumbled. Suddenly Likud right-winger Moshe Feiglin is more dangerous than Obama: He, ironically, could be the one to forestall a confrontation with Iran’s nuclear program.

That is why Netanyahu, on Monday morning, instructed his former bureau chief, Natan Eshel, to close the deal with Lior Horev, an aide to Kadima head Shaul Mofaz. And within 90 minutes, Eshel and Horev were shaking hands. They brought about the biggest national unity government in Israeli history.

To a certain extent, it was a dirty trick. The deal made a mockery of many of the words uttered and promises made in these parts over the past several months. It made a mockery of many an analysis – including ones published by this writer. But this dirty trick is also an encouraging one. It means Israel has a stable government with an enormous nonreligious majority. It means Israel has a government that is explicitly committed to changing the system of government and to drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the army – this year.

Finally we have a government representing the Israeli majority, a government that no niche party can extort. Finally we have a government with a clear Zionist majority.

This week the Feiglinists unwittingly did to Bibi what the rebels did years ago to Arik: They pushed him toward the center. Yesterday, three years late, the Sharonization of Benjamin Netanyahu began.

The Likud-Netanyahu government speaks of four goals: Changing the system of government, passing a new law governing Haredi conscription, creating a new social order and initiating a responsible peace process. But its real goal is Iran. For Netanyahu, bringing Mofaz into his government is like Levi Eshkol’s bringing Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan into his government in 1967. It creates a firm political foundation on which to conduct the strategic sparring with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Netanyahu and Mofaz.

Netanyahu and Mofaz - Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

The national unity government provides domestic and international legitimacy to the anticipated confrontation. Now the Iran decision will not be the decision of the reviled messianic duo from Caesarea and Akirov Towers. Now the Iran decision will be the joint decision of Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mofaz and Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Instead of pre-Iran elections, we get pre-Iran unity, which does the same thing. Instead of a two-month window of opportunity (September-October 2012 ), we get a four-month one (July-October 2012 ).

A new and surprising political move brings Netanyahu to exactly the same place he had hoped to reach through an early election. The only difference is that our summer is a goner. The Iranian crisis could erupt any day – or night – between now and November.

The Netanyahu-Mofaz pairing also sowed the seeds of a future political blowup. There’s a good chance that in the next election, in 2013, a new center-right party of Netanyahu, Mofaz and Barak will be there, and that its main challenger will be a bigger Labor Party. Kadima in its current form will fade away, the Haredi and far-right parties will weaken, and Yair Lapid will post numerous status updates on Facebook. But the political establishment is moving to the center, and with any luck it will move closer to a two-state solution.

As always, it all comes down to Netanyahu. If this was just a way to hold on for another year as prime minister, his political career is finished. But if he ushers in genuine change, the world will be in the palm of his hand.

No more excuses. He is beholden to none, at the head of the broadest government ever. Starting today, he has all the responsibility.


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By Ari Shavit