Wednesday, July 20, 2011

NGO Bill Puts Bibi In A Bind

Today the Israeli Knesset defeated a bill to create panels of inquiry examining left-wing NGOs by a vote of 57 to 28. Six members of the Prime Minister's Likud party voted against the bill. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, both from Likud, voted against the bill as well.

In response, Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's coalition partner from Yisrael Beiteinu and Israel's Foreign Minister, escalated tensions between his party and Likud. While Lieberman originally expressed "surprise" and "disappointment" with Netanyahu's opposition to the bill, he called today's opposition vote "grotesque" and "a mistake." He also changed Yisrael Beiteinu's position on the coalition. While Lieberman originally said the bill did not put the coalition in danger, he said today that "If I want an excuse to leave [the coalition], there are reasons every day. I hope they don't put us in a corner."

Today's vote failed because the key intra-party split occurred in the Likud party rather than in Kadima. The bill itself was proposed by MK Danny Danon and MK Faina Kirschenbaum, both of Likud, but also opposed by several senior members of that party including the Prime Minister. Since Netanyahu did not enforce party discipline, internal divisions on the bill became clear.

This blog has documented the slow tightening of the screws on Prime Minister Netanyahu as he negotiates between the US, US Jewry, Yisrael Beiteinu, the Israeli public, and the international community. His margin of error was razor thin going into last week's vote on BDS, largely the result of stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians. On previous votes the coalition was strained. Today, it cracked.

Prime Minister Netanyahu miscalculated the ill-will the BDS bill would generate in the American Jewish community, and thus had to oppose today's vote as a reaction rather than a proactive strategic move. This shifted the locus of initiative closer to Yisrael Beiteinu, which is now making no secret of the internal tensions between Likud and itself.

But the Prime Minister is in a bind. It will be very difficult to support Yisrael Beiteinu's conservative party line within the short timeline they would require for a demonstration of commitment to the coalition. This is because the American Jewish community and Israeli left-wing community would not support such moves, and it would exacerbate Israel's isolation in the international community ahead of the UN Palestinian statehood vote. In addition to the pressures of maintaining Israel's security and diplomatic posture, Netanyahu will now have to factor the coalition into the balance. A statehood vote will almost definitely not bring down the State of Israel. But in light of today's vote, it may very well prove the death knell of the current coalition government.

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