A ‘Big Bang’ in Israel’s fresh political jockeying
The recent political jockeying that the highly-fractured Israeli domestic political scene has been witnessing on the eve of the upcoming Jan. 22 elections has reminded many of the “seriousness” of hawkish Prime Minister Golda Meir, who once famously “joked” that in Israel, “there are 3 million prime ministers.”
The irony in the late prime minister’s sarcasm was proven to be livelier than ever last week as senior Israeli politicians engaged in a race for “holy alliances” amid the changing facet of its near, hostile Middle East region and a chill in ties with the United States, as well as a “gravely frozen” relationship with erstwhile ally Turkey.
To sum up what previously happened in the latest episode, right-wing Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his blunt, ultra-nationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have struck an election deal between their respective parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, to form a pact dubbed the “Big Bang” by the Israeli media, making their main centrist or center-leftist rivals hunt for similar alliances.
Moved mostly by right-wing “Big Bang” tremors, high-profile but former Israeli figures, like ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his political successor as Kadima leader, former top diplomat Tzipi Livni, have started election bargaining for a grand coalition that has yet to come to fruition.
While the predecessors and successors fight for a larger political platform to woo more voters in an Israeli-branded, complicated proportional representation system, Lieberman has appeared to hand his kingmaker role from the last elections to new challengers.
Aimed at capitalizing on the Israeli electorate’s ennui toward the same old faces, television personality-turned-politician Yair Lapid has moved to steal votes from every single side of the Israeli political spectrum with his freshly established centrist party, Yesh Atid.
Lapid’s unexpected rise is a particular threat to Netanyahu’s strong grip on right-wing voters, and it was not the only one. His popular communications and social affairs minister, Moshe Kahlon, made a dramatic move by announcing that he would part his way with Likud, sparking a political auctioning between senior Israeli politicians, who are trying to lure him onto their side.
Even without a party or a candidacy, Kahlon seems to be courting voters from not only Likud, but other right-wing and religious parties, which traditionally ally with Likud, in the booming opinion surveys in Israel.
What polls in Israel have also showed, at least today, was that Netanyahu might be tarnishing his strong stand in a move that could backfire due to his alliance with the outspoken Lieberman. It was most likely not his strong desire, but the political environment, that forced him into an alliance with Lieberman.
Fearing a centrist-center-leftist coalition engineered by the Livni-Olmert duo, supplemented by Kahlon and maybe the Labor Party and receiving a final touch from “the most trusted Israeli politician,” President Shimon Peres, Netanyahu found himself next to his foreign minister.
Now, the horizon for Israeli politics is blurred. Turkey will have its eyes fixed on the outcome since a change in leadership might give a chance to rekindle frozen Turkish-Israeli ties. Should Netanyahu manage to win his high-stakes game, as well as his top diplomat, the relationship will be no different than today’s, may be worse, but that might not be the case if a grand coalition steps up considering their leaders’ (both Livni and Olmert’s) previously expressed wishes to mend ties.