Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In Israel, Political Tensions Build

The governing coalition in Israel suffered two setbacks today. First, MK Daniel Ben Simon quit the Labor Party to become an independent MK after being asked to do so by party leader Ehud Barak. Secondly, Likud MK Michael Eitan levied harsh criticism at Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, accusing him of bringing "zero" to Israel. Earlier, Lieberman had scolded Likud MKs for not supporting an inquiry into liberal NGOs in Israel.

These events illustrate the three major schisms beginning to appear in the Israeli governing coalition.

1) Intra-Leftist conflict: Ben Simon's departure illustrates tensions between those on the Israeli left who believe in remaining in the coalition and those who do not. As the Israeli liberal public grows frustrated with the lack of progress under Netanyahu, politicians who break from the coalition will be more and more likely to garner support from their constituencies as the weeks and months progress.

2) Intra-Right conflict: MK Eitan's comments illustrate a divide between the center right and the far right. Likud MKs may not be huge fans of B'tselem and the New Israel Fund, but some refused to vote in favor of what some in Israel are referring to as a "witch hunt" against these organizations. Lieberman faces increasing alienation from the Israeli center.

3) Netanyahu-Coalition conflict: While disagreement between the center and far right is nothing new, the most concerning piece of the puzzle for Netanyahu is that his coalition is no longer remaining silent when he is. While Bibi may look the other way as Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu push far-Right policies through the Knesset, his deputies are starting to speak out. This represents a fracture within the Likud party itself, one which is likely to pressure Netanyahu to speak more boldly against Lieberman. This in turn will put stress on his relationship with Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu, which in turn endangers the governing coalition.

While these schisms are ever-growing, Prime Minister Netanyahu is not out the door just yet. Netanyahu has demonstrated a shrewd political sense throughout his time in office, and an uncanny ability to balance interests which has kept him in power as long as he has. The challenges he is now facing were likely anticipated. Eventually Netanyahu's coalition will fracture. That is not likely to happen in the immediate future.

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