Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mofaz's Kadima Quits Netanyahu's Coalition

The Kadima party has voted to withdraw from Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition in Israel.  The coalition was formed only 70 days ago, and its dissolution opens the door to new elections in Israel.  Some Kadima MKs may try to remain part of the coalition by leaving the party.  This split severely fractures Kadima and calls into question its future existence as a major political player.

For the reasons behind the coalition's downfall, look no further than Allison Good's post from just a few weeks ago when the two of us made a bet about whether the coalition would last out the week.  While the coalition did last out the week (and long enough for this blogger to gain a free beer out of it), Allison's reasoning was solid for a slightly longer timeframe.  Today's coalition collapse has born out her prediction and she deserves credit for calling the fall so early.

This blogger's post on the subject listed three reasons the coalition would last out the week. Let's now grade how accurate the assumptions underlying these reasons turned out to be.  

1) Never. Underestimate. Bibi.  Grade: A-/B+

Ultimately this is still a good rule of thumb.  PM Netanyahu will be able to either re-form his old coalition, or win in new elections.  However, if Netanyahu does join up again with the far right, his actions on Tal Law will have damaged his political capital there.  This means that such a coalition will force Bibi to tack hard to the right, alienating him from the Israeli public who support Haredi service in the IDF.  He will also be forced to take a softer line on settlements, harming Israel's capital with the US and the international community.  Elections may be Netanyahu's best bet at this point, but clearly are risky given that Bibi put in the effort to form a coalition with Kadima in the first place.  Today's coalition breakdown is a loss for Bibi in the short-term.  However, one loss does not a washed-up politician make.  

2) MK Mofaz would gain little by quitting and a lot by remaining part of the coalition.  Grade: A

Michael Koplow considers today's move by Kadima party head Shaul Mofaz a mistake and that's probably correct.  If there are enough defections from Kadima over today's split, Mofaz will be less influential in the next government even if he wedges out Shelly Yachimovitch to become Head of the Opposition.  In the time until elections, I agree with Michael in saying that Mofaz has political leverage against Bibi for supporting Haredi participation in the IDF.  At the same time, Mofaz has become something of an Israeli Mitt Romney, aligning himself with the position that will most likely get him the power he wants at any given time.  The key question for elections is whether Israelis dislike Netanyahu's equivocation on the Tal Law more or less than they dislike Mofaz's opportunism.  At the moment opinion is probably split.  However, a lot can and will change between now and elections.  Which leads us to:

3) The Israeli public sides with MK Mofaz.  Grade B-

This assumption is probably the most faulty of the three and was a risky one.  A better way to frame it would have been "The Israeli public sides with MK Mofaz's position on the Tal Law."  It remains the case that the majority of the Israeli public supports Haredi IDF service and resents that Netanyahu is constrained by demands from the far right.  However, as the last point reveals, it's unclear that Mofaz is now the poster child for equal service.  A smart Yachimovitch would gain a lot from saying "We in Labor supported Haredi service from the beginning.  And we did so on principle, not in order to get into bed with PM Netanyahu."  While a statement like this is highly unlikely, the point is that the Israeli public may not associate Mofaz with the issue.  Mofaz will need to convince the public to do so if he is to be successful in the elections.

As Allison Good, Michael Koplow, and this blogger stated, prediction in Middle East politics is a risky business.  At the same time, re-examining our underlying assumptions may never have happened in such a public way without having gone on the record a few weeks ago.  Our posts today are less about who was right and who was wrong, and more about analysts who are willing to have an honest discussion of Israeli politics, admit when they are wrong, and better inform the discourse on Israeli politics taking place here in Washington.  Such transparency ultimately improves the quality of our future predictions.