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The Future Of Israel's Government, Kadima Vs. Likud Edition

There is now much pirouetting and pivoting among Israel's leading politicians and political parties ostensibly for the favor of the slightly out-of-it president of the state, Shimon Peres. There are only two people between whom he must choose to ask to form a government: Tsipi Livni and Bibi Netanyahu. Were he to choose Livni, however, he would be imposing his own political prejudices on the process itself. He is vain enough to convince himself that this action would not be wrong. But the fact is that it would be. It is true that Livni's party, Kadima, won more seats than any other party, 28 to 27 for the Likud. Still, she'd be hard put to cobble together a coherent and stable government. What's more, she'd be inordinately dependent on two or even three of the religious parties whose major business is to euchre cash for their constituencies in the form of children's and family allowances, a goal which they share with the Arab parties. Yet that is not the only purpose for which her cabinet would be held up. The religious also want to protect against secular marriage, the right of their young men not to fight and a whole series of vexations in every aspect of civil life. Kadima couldn't keep a 61 member Knesset majority together very long--if at all. Labor would prefer to go into partnership with Kadima rather than the Likud. But all it has is thirteen seats, not much for the party that ruled the roost uninterrupted for the first three decades of statehood. By the way, Kadima welcomed Avigdor Lieberman, certified bigot and apparent crook, and his Yisrael Beiteinu gang into the last government. Livni is not exactly pure.

Long ago having grown accustomed to being in the opposition, the Likud met a certain rough standard of honesty. That is now gone: it is as flexible as everyone else. So Bibi would have even less trouble welcoming Lieberman into his coalition than Livni did. This makes a lot of sense politically. Yisrael Beiteinu, being composed of many Russian immigrants, is passionately free market which the Likud also is. Bibi appears before Peres with a larger number of troops than Livni by far. In fact, by mixing and matching with smaller parties, he can muster a solid majority. A solid majority on the right, it is true, but a solid majority, nonetheless.

There are two ways to deflect this shift to the right, which is largely a cultural one.  One is to get Kadima to enter into an alliance with the Likud. After all, most of the Kadima stalwarts are old Likud stalwarts, including Livni herself, who inherited her politics from her parents, fighters in the irregular Irgun militia before statehood. Kadima folk are softer now.  But there is a hardcore national and nationalist attitude behind their every move. Labor might also be inveigled into a government with Bibi. After all, on national security essentials, Ehud Barak and Netanyahu are not very far from each other.  Their affect is different and their rhetoric appeals to different constituencies. On Gaza, there was a string between them.

Still, I suspect that my musings above are really daydreams, that it will be a government of the right. And I believe that this actually strengthens Barack Obama's dealings with the Iranians. However, the president negotiates with Iran, he brings with him only squishy allies. Even Ms. Merkel, who was furious with the Pope for reinstating a bishop who denies the Holocaust, is perfectly casual about German heavy industry servicing Iranian heavy industry, including in ways that may advance their nuclear designs.

The president, moreover, is does not have backing from the other industrial powers--Japan, for example--to force Iran to relent. Quite on the contrary: in the United Nations and in the marketplace these states have never, never coalesced in a convincing manner to get Tehran to relent.

Now, on the other hand, were there to be a government in Israel that would not standby while Iran builds its nuclear arsenal, the president might be able to fix the attention of the Tehran regime on what its destiny was. Yes, Israel can and would play the role of a slightly irresponsible ally and, in that way, be its most responsible. Like Menachem Begin at Osirak in 1981. Imagine what Iraq would have done to the Iranians and to other Arabs had Begin looked the other way.  One thing is for sure: Bibi won't look the other way.