The irreplaceable Netanyahu?


With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s firing of two moderate members of his government on Tuesday, Israelis will almost certainly go to the polls in 2015.

The differences that had always existed between the government’s center and right cracked wide open after the Cabinet’s recent vote on the so-called Nation-State bill – turning what had been policy skirmishes over settlements and peace negotiations with the Palestinians into a constitutional battle to define Israel’s essence.

Against the backdrop of increasing violence in Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians, and with the Temple Mount one spark away from a religious war, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday called for an end to “inflammatory rhetoric and radical legislation,” a reference to what many construed as Netanyahu’s favoring of Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic charter. Under those circumstances, going to elections is preferable to continuing “with extremist proposals,” Livni said.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu fired Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party. Lapid had been a harsh critic of the prime minister’s handling of the state budget. In firing the two, Netanyahu said he would call for early elections to “receive a clear mandate from the people to lead Israel.”

But it is unlikely that elections will put an end to provocation by Israel’s religious and right-wing factions. In fact, new balloting might not bring much change at all. A Haaretz poll released Sunday showed that Netanyahu, Israel’s second-longest-serving prime minister, would likely win a fourth term despite an approval rating of 38 percent.

The reason lies both in the fact that no one at the moment displays Netanyahu’s stature and that the majority of Israel’s voters support blocs that are Netanyahu’s natural constituencies: the secular right, the Zionist Orthodox and the non-Zionist haredim. In fact, he could probably put together such a coalition without elections.

Should events unfold according to this scenario, Diaspora Jews would almost certainly see less cooperation on matters of Jewish identity and pluralism, as the haredim reassert themselves in government. But at the top levels of government policy, with Netanyahu at the helm, Israelis know they will be getting more of the same.

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