By Dow Marmur
Jerusalem (March 13, 2018) – I learnt today that, to make sure that I don’t misinform you, I should only comment on events in Israel long after they happen. What seemed quite plausible, perhaps even certain, this afternoon turned out to be false and irrelevant only hours later.
After Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech in the Knesset yesterday and according to all the commentators that I’ve followed since, Netanyahu was about to get his way and elections would be held in June, more than a year ahead of schedule. The reasons were, first, the polls that suggested that his party would come out stronger and, perhaps more importantly for him, the hope that the election would delay formal indictment in the corruption investigations currently under way.
Netanyahu’s coalition partners were uneasy, because the polls aren’t in their favour, but they seemed unable to do much about it after one of them, Avigdor Lieberman, was about to do the prime minister’s dirty work and be the formal cause of the early election. Why he changed his mind is a matter of speculations that are beyond me.
As a result of that change of mind, apparently a last minute deal was struck that’s going to keep the coalition together as long as there’s no formal indictment of the prime minister. This may mean that the government will last its full term.
In his speech tonight, Netanyahu taunted the opposition that it must sigh a sigh of relief not to have to face the electorate and suffer humiliation at the polls, but in truth the sigh was no less audible among his coalition partners who would probably also have to face defeat.
In the end it’s the prime minister who had to retreat, though, for obvious reasons, that’s not how he presented the situation. In his official version, common sense prevailed and this the best of all governments — namely his — continue until elections have to be held at the end of next year. His hope is now, we presume, that the police won’t bring its investigation to trial for a long time, because once the matter reaches the courts, the loyal coalition partners may want to bolt for the sake of self-preservation.
For now, the government can go back to its routine and the country can begin preparations for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.
In the midst of all this, Netanyahu received some good news today from Washington: Rex Tillerson has been fired as U.S. Secretary of State to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, a man who is at least as hawkish about Iran as Israel’s prime minister and as enthusiastic about Israel as any local right-winger. Israel can now expect further goodies from Uncle Sam.
Strange as it may seem, even critics of the present government have reason to be pleased with the last-minute deal, because the alternative may have been even less congenial. And whatever we may think of Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister, there’s nothing to suggest at this moment that his replacement would be an improvement.
There was a time when it was reasonable to hope that change is for the better. In our age, that’s no longer the case. It turns even radicals into conservatives.