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What Are They Up To?

This morning’s headlines make it clear: For Tzipi Livni to form a stable coalition will be even more complicated than she could have imagined. Yesterday, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor chairman Ehud Barak met in Tel Aviv.

Their goal? Well, that’s not quite clear yet. Some say they both want an early election, followed by a unity government between the two parties. Some say Barak is only trying to threaten Livni, by way of getting a better bargain in exchange for staying in her coalition. However, a third explanation is also possible: Barak is buying time, opening doors, making more options available for Labor. Eventually, he could go both ways. He can stay in the coalition, or leave and be Defense Minister under Netanyahu in the next government (no one in his right mind believes that Labor can win in any coming election).

The one important thing that people watching these maneuvers should remember is this: tactics can change; the politics of the day might dictate all kinds of decisions; but Likud and Labor do share an important strategic goal–they both want to make Kadima go away. Kadima was formed by Ariel Sharon and it succeeded because of his popularity. Sharon is now gone, and the question at hand is this: will Kadima become a permanent feature of Israel’s politics, making the Israeli system one built around three major parties? Or will it disappear from the scene, living Likud and Labor as the two rivals for primacy? Naturally, both Likud and Labor would like the second option better. Thus, if Netanyahu and Barak choose to agree on an early date for election, no one should be surprised.

The main obstacle to such move is the fact that Labor now finds itself in a very tough position with the public. Most polls predict that Barak and his Party would lose many votes if an election were called, and this means that Labor will have to sacrifice now to gain (possibly) later. One of the ways with which Livni can still persuade Barak to stay in the coalition is some kind of commitment that she will not call an early election, giving the government the full two years it still nominally has before the official date for an election. Such a period of time– Barak hopes– will give him an opportunity to reestablish himself as a viable candidate for the Prime Ministership.

And there’s another reason in favor of a unity government (they now call it “emergency government”). If Israel’s leaders have decided that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is unavoidable, they’d want to do it together, sharing the burden, the blame–and hopefully the eventual credit.



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