Shotgun weddings often produce quick and/or ugly divorces. This one was no exception. When announced, public outrage greeted it.
So-called unity sounded more like surrender. Secret talks arranged it. Israel's faux democracy sustained another blow. What Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima's Shaul Mofaz agreed to came asunder.
On May 9, Knesset members voted 71 - 23 for a new unity government. Mofaz became deputy prime minister. Netanyahu stayed head of government.
Mofaz served previously as IDF Chief of General Staff. He also held various ministerial posts.
As former IDF head and defense minister, he's indictable for crimes of war and against humanity. He murdered thousands of Palestinians. He participated in two wars against Lebanon.
Netanyahu has his own cross to bear. He's a world class thug. Like Mofaz, he's guilty of high crimes against peace. He's an embarrassment to democratic government. He's surrounded by equally hardline types. He and Mofaz made an inglorious pact.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said:
"I have seen everything, but nothing like this." No wonder increasing numbers of Israelis call its political system "trash."
Likely September elections were cancelled. Kadima agreed to support Likud's policies through late 2013. Only 12 of its 28 MKs showed up to vote. Accord to MK Robert Tibayev:
"We are entering the coalition with no discussion, with four clauses in the agreement," he said." I don't think there has ever been a coalition deal with four clauses and nothing of essence."
Meretz party MK Zehava Gal-On said "the prime minister was spooked by the settlers in the Likud Central Committee, and Mofaz panicked because of the polls that showed that his party is vaporizing."
Her colleague Nitzan Horowitz asked "(w)hat are Israeli citizens supposed to understand from" what's going on?
Many Israelis deplored it. Public rallies opposed it. In Tel Aviv, protesters demonstrated under the slogan "All the People are Opposition." Social activist MKs attended.
Mofaz drew most anger. One sign read "Mofaz is in the coalition. The people are in the opposition." Confrontations erupted. Police made arrests.
After defeating Tzipi Livni for Kadma leadership in March, Mofaz said "We are the opposition. I will oppose Netanyahu." He also called him and Ehud Barak a "couple that is dangerous to Israel." Fast forward two months and he embraced them.
Washington and EU states endorsed coalition unity. Officially the State Department called it an internal matter. Privately it expressed support.
EU foreign policy/security representative Catherine Ashton said it advances the ball for peace talks. Former EU foreign policy head Javier Solana called Netanyahu too hardline to achieve it.
Ten weeks after it was formed, unity dissolved. Netanyahu lost a partner but retains a solid majority. Kadima voted 24 - 3 to leave over Netanyahu's failure to support new draft law changes.
"Netanyahu has chosen to side with the draft-dodgers," said Mofaz. "I have reached an understanding that the prime minister has not left us a choice and so we have responded."
"(T)here is an attempt here to bypass principles and confuse the public. It doesn't fool me and it doesn't fool the public."
In early July, both leaders met. Mofaz warned Netanyahu about about dissolving unity. At issue is regulations for drafting ultra-Orthodox men.
They include punishments against anyone refusing to serve. Another rule involves how long implementing an ultra-Orthodox draft program would take. Talks broke down. Neither side would yield enough.
Chief Haredi Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky rejected any law to draft Haredim. "Be careful for your lives," he said. "Know for a fact that the only reason the Jewish people merit existence is the merit of the holy Torah students who have nothing in their lives but the four cubits of halakha."
"It has been simple and clear to every Jew, from the moment we became a people, that interfering with the purity of those studying in the holy yeshivas and introducing them to foreign ideas, God forbid, presents a grave danger."
Eida Haredit is an anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox umbrella group. It demonstrated against drafting Haredim. Posters announced it in advance declaring "At a time of religious persecution and decrees, no person dare stay home."
Moderate Haredim presented its own proposal to replace the Tal Law. It exempts yeshiva students subject to specific conditions. At age 22, they could choose between one-year civil service or a shortened 16-month military obligation and future reserve duty.
The existing law failed to boost ultra-Orthodox enlistments. Only a few dozen joined Israel's army. In February 2012, the High Court of Justice ruled it unconstitutional. It expires in August. Debate centers on replacing it.
Moderate Haredim believe "military service is critical to preserving the state, and civilian service is crucial to sustaining society."
"Anyone who isn't studying Torah must serve. Such service must be compensated and non-service must carry a price."
In early July, talks produced political deadlock. On July 11, Mofaz convened Kadima members. Policy going forward was discussed. Likud Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner disagreed strongly.
Mofaz told party members "(w)e are at a crucial moment, and if we do not introduce a bill in the government meeting we will not be able to maintain this partnership."
On July 9, Ya'alon and Plesner planned a new bill introduction. Disagreement remained over ultra-Orthodox men draft regulations. Netanyahu said he'll only support a new measure if it applies to all Israeli citizens. It must include Haredim and Arab citizens, he said.
Before Mofaz scuttled unity, Netanyahu submitted a new legislative proposal. It aimed to equalize military service. His attorney, David Shimron sent it to Alon Gellert. He represents Kadima.
Provisions exclude drafting Haredim past age 23. At the same time, they'd get incentives for enlisting at age 18. Those opting out would perform operational civil service functions. It includes firefighting, police and Prison Service duty.
Mofaz rejected the proposal, saying:
"Netanyahu's proposal contradicts the ruling of the High Court of Justice, does not conform to the principle of equality, is disproportionate and does not meet the tests of effectiveness that are set down in the High Court's ruling, or the principles of the committee on equalizing the burden of IDF service."
"Let's make this clear: We are referring to enlistment targets that do not include all of those eligible for the draft, and we are therefore countenancing a 'word- laundering' that in effect leaves the situation as it was."
Another senior Kadima official called the proposal "rubbish." It's the same one sent before, he said. Eleventh hour talks resolved nothing. Breaking up was simple as saying goodbye.
Likud/Kadima unity mocked democratic values. Dissolution shamed them further. Coalition governments are commonplace. This one differed from others. Moments before the Knesset planned to schedule September elections, Netanyahu and Mofaz announced a "historic" agreement.
Four goals were announced. They included adopting a universal draft law, changing Israel's system of government, restarting the peace process, and passing an emergency budget. Ten weeks of unity brought divorce. No objective was achieved.
Both sides look bad. They're more at odds than ever. Mofaz claimed good intentions. The road to hell reached dead end. Days before dissolution, signs showed it was coming. Likud Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said Mofaz was planning to bolt.
It's imminent, he said. Disbanding the Plesner Equalizing the Burden committee cinched it. Mofaz postponed his announcement until after Hillary Clinton's visit. He didn't meet her. He knew he was returning to opposition status.
Friction with Netanyahu went beyond draft law provisions. Senior Kadima members said former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked party officials to remain in coalition partnership until fall.
Perhaps his remaining legal issues will be resolved by them. Some believe he hopes to return to political life. If so, he'll challenge Mofaz for Kadima leadership. Bolting coalition unity had Olmert's ambitions in mind.
Mofaz hopes it increases party strength. Failure to accomplish anything in 10 weeks suggests otherwise. Likud greeted his announcement saying "goodbye and we will not meet again." Expect new elections sometime between late 2012 and fall 2013.
Political insiders say Mofaz is finished. He partnered with Likud. He held on for 10 weeks, and accomplished nothing. He returns to opposition status without influence.
He'll claim he held firm to principles. Others call him weak and ineffective. Instead of distancing himself from hardline ideology, he joined it. He succeeded only in delaying elections until late this year or next. Kadima rivals got more time to oppose him.
What's next for Netanyahu remains uncertain. Social justice protesters deplore him. They demand he resign. If they marshal greater support, perhaps they and other Israelis will force him out for someone else.
Likud, Kadima, Labor, or new centrist party leadership hardly matters. Israel remains hardline, belligerent, and repressive. Arab citizens have no rights.
They and most Jews chafe under neoliberal harshness. Instead of improving conditions, they're worsening.
Malcolm X once said "I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don't see any American dream - I see an American nightmare."
Israelis face similar harshness. Remaining rights are eroding en route to being lost altogether. Populist change demands sustained public rage. Nothing else can work.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|