Monday, October 18, 2010

Bibi Begins to Tilt

UPDATE: Senior Labor MK threatens to withdraw from coalition unless peace talks resume by the end of the year.

Original Post:

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu requested that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman revise the loyalty oath proposed for new immigrants to Israel to apply to Jews as well as non-Jews, likely the result of pressure from the American Jewish establishment and a less-than-impressed State Department.

The shift is a latest in a series of last-minute attempts by the Prime Minister to keep all his ducks in a row, so to speak. Balancing between the US, the Palestinians, and the far right has been an act which until now, Netanyahu has been handling with finesse. The past week indicates this may be about to change. Bibi is starting to tilt.

The first sign is the lack of decisive action on a settlement freeze. A Bibi of a year ago would either have called a settlement freeze while continuing building on the side, or called off a settlement freeze while effectively freezing anyway.* Bibi of today is continuing to stall, drawing the ire of the Palestinians and testing the patience of the State Department.

The second sign is Netanyahu's original support for the Loyalty Bill without reciprocation to another party. An earlier post raised the question of whether Netanyahu's support was part of a larger deal in which he would appease the far right in order to pacify them in the wake of a settlement freeze. This appears (so far) to not have been the case. Rather, Bibi is supporting the loyalty oath to keep Lieberman happy...and for no other overt reason.

The final sign is today's switch from supporting the loyalty oath in its far right-friendly form, to form which would include both Jews and non-Jews. This quick turnaround may be deliberate, but appears to be more likely a response to reaction from parties other than Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas.

Bibi is no longer playing the long game, waiting out Obama's settlement request until it lacked political salience, and stalling peace talks. He appears to be in a much more vulnerable position, reacting to the weekly fluctuations of Israeli politics, an inevitable consequence of the Israeli political system.

In short, Netanyahu is weakening. In seeking to stay power, he has sacrificed the ability to advocate his agenda. The tyranny of coalition politics and multiple divergent actors has begun to take its toll. This is hardly Netanyahu's fault, and his political run remains an amazing example of coalition balancing, one which politicians and academics should closely scrutinize for its lessons. Yet PM Netanyahu is demonstrating an inability to execute. His premiership has a way to go, but the clock has begun to tick.

*Credit for this elegant bifurcation goes to a source speaking off-the-record.

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