Outgoing gov’t was survival for survival’s sake

Bibi is right. One cannot govern a country while trying to navigate stiff opposition from within government ranks.

But the opposition Netanyahu has faced from Justice Minster Tzippi Livni, who was charged with conducting negotiations with the Palestinians, and from Finance Minister Yair Lapid, is more a comment on the honesty of both of those individuals than it is about their disloyalty to the prime minister or to the coalition. Far from being duplicitious, Livni and Lapid have stated clearly for years that they viewed a negotiated settlement with the PLO as an Israeli interest. Neither agreed to abandon that view, or not to push for that outcome, as a prerequisite to joining the government.

On the other hand, Netanyahu has indicated for years both his ideological distaste for a Palestinian state and his deep strategic mistrust of PLO Chairman Abu Mazen. Both are certainly legitimate positions, but how do they jive with appointing Livni to oversee negotiations with the Palestinians? Who’s being dishonest here?

Similarly, Lapid swept into the Knesset on a platform of change on a range of social issues. Yesh Atid’s 19 seats were a clear statement from the public that the cost of living here is too high, that traditional political parties are not meeting the needs of ordinary Israelis and that people want a change. Lapid’s Zero VAT plan for first-time home buyers may or may not be viable, but it was the only visible policy suggestion to emerge from the 2011 Summer of Discontent. As such, it was clear that Lapid intended to make economic and social issues a major focus. What ideas did Bibi have? Increasing the defence budget?

By forcing a political novice into the volatile finance ministry, despite his lack of any apparent qualification to set policy in that role, Netanyahu made clear that he viewed Lapid as a threat, and that he viewed his own political survival as more important than the needs of the country. Netanyahu made clear early on that he opposed Lapid’s Zero VAT proposal – something that in hindsight appears to have been a central element of Netanyahu’s political strategy. In short, by cajoling Lapid into the finance ministry, Netanyahu created a win-win situation for himself: Either Lapid would back down on the demand for Zero VAT, thus alienating his voter base, or he would fail to get it implemented, thus appearing inefficient to his voter base. Either way, Netanyahu scored a victory for his narrow political interests, middle class Israelis be damned.

If anything, Netanyahu’s complaint about opposition from with and about coalition fealty to his ideals is a damning comment about his leadership style, which seems to neatly sum up as “vanquish all potential challengers.” In that light, the goal of the current government appeared from the onset to be surivival for survival’s sake, not for any coherent domestic or foreign policy objectives.

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