Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Opinion: Has Netanyahu Become a Weaker Prime Minister?

The headlines highlighted in the morning papers where 'Netanyahu got shellacked' by a vote of no confidence. While he is likely retain his position as prime minister, the assumption is that he barely clinged on to his position and that the poor showing of his party's support puts Netanyahu in a difficult position of assembling a coalition for the long run.

Based on the election results, the US administration and the peace camp may find a shed of light in seeing a much weaker Netanyahu than his 2nd term, but in reality the difficult challenges Netanyahu faces in forming a government based on the will of the Israeli public, may result in weakening the opposition from outside and an opportunity to form a stable coalition that will focus on internal issues that is at great concern.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, in many ways, the victim of his own success," writes Chemi Shalev in his post election analysis in Haaretz. "It is only by virtue of the relative quiet and security in recent years that the Israeli electorate allowed itself to concentrate on social and economic issues instead."

That may be a realistic assumption in assessing the collapse of the ruling Likud Beitenu party, losing 25% of its basic support they received in 2009, but the focus on security and diplomatic oriented issues is also the what clouded Netanyahu's reputation internally and internationally, despite of his government's great achievements in terms of reforming the cellphone industry etc.

The Likud Beitenu's mistake was highlighting the government's achievements on the diplomatic board. "When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens," was one of the slogans at the end of a clip summarizing Netanyahu's achievements abroad, but that is the angle where he was most attacked on during his 4 year term, from Livni, Olmert, Diskin from the left, Likud activists from the right, and the Obama administration and the international community from abroad. 

The best example and indication in failing to lead the narrative on internal domestic issues, are the polls that showed a rise of support for the Likud Beitenu during the relatively short  positive campaign theme highlighting the Likud government's achievements, which seemed to have brought Likud voters back home, according to a January 10 poll  conducted by Rafi Smith for "Globes" showing the Likud rebounding with 34 projected seats, while the assault on Bennett from the right and the obsessive focus on the security front seemed to have reduced Likud's support.

Seems that Netanyahu's stable government, surviving the obstacles set from right to left, may have had a impact on Israel's future, but not on its standing in the world or strengthening Israel in the short term.

Looking at the quarter filled glass, Netanyahu is right by claiming he got a mandate and a vote of confidence in serving as Israel's Prime minister. After all, He received almost a million votes, he leads the largest party in the incoming Knesset, and he's on course to serve for over a decade as Israel's 2nd longest serving Prime Minister. 

Yair Lapid's stunning victory, getting half of his support from the right, according to Dahaf's exit poll, will force Netanayhu to form a government that will grant his less maneuverability and less independence, but an opportunity to end his 30 year long political career, if he steps down at the end of his 3rd term with the focus "that will instill three internal changes – an equal distribution of social burden, attainable housing and a change in the system of government," as the prime minister said in a brief statement Wednesday morning.  

Such a centrist, domestically focused, responsible government is good for Israel, but it ultimately strengthens the Prime Minister leading the wagon in achieving those goals, while the world's obsessive involvement in forcing Israel to look overseas on expense of dealing with the burning issues at great concern will be set aside.

Netanyahu asserted that 'a nuclear Iran is a greater threat than Israel building in Jerusalem' during the campaign, looks like Israelis came out with a even stronger cliche, telling the world in a clear voice: The threat of the cost of cottage cheese, or the inequality in sharing the burden, is a greater threat for Israel's future than 18 hours a day in tense meetings at Camp David.