Updated: If you already read this, jump to the last comment – more information following the first post-resignation polls.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned from his post. His reason, or excuse: “we buy short term quiet but in the long term we hurt Israel’s security.” The ceasefire in Gaza is his reason. His marginalization as Defense Minister – Netanyahu calling the shots – is his reason. Is Israel going to new election? That’s almost a certainty. Without Lieberman, the coalition is becoming smaller – too small to pass legislation or have a coherent policy. Without Lieberman, all other partners have to play tough so as not to be seen as weaker than Lieberman on security and terrorism.
Here are a few comments on the resignation and the coming election.
Going to a new election over Gaza is not necessarily a bad idea. Political calculations aside – the positioning of parties, the amalgamation of camps – there is a debate worth having on the policy towards Gaza. By choosing to accept a cease fire and let Israel suffer an image setback Netanyahu made his position clear. By resigning from his coveted position Lieberman made his opposite position clear. Now the people will have a choice. Which of our leaders do they trust? Which of the two positions (restrain, attack) do they favor? In a few months, not many, we will get the answer.
Lieberman made a solid political calculation. As Defense Minister, he is criticized for any inaction, and does not get the credit for restraint (this goes to Netanyahu). His resignation turns him into a hero of those wanting to see a bolder, tougher, less compromising Israel. Israelis who believe that accepting a ceasefire was a show of indecisive weakness might give him their votes. His main rival will be Naftali Bennet of The Jewish Home – another contender for a tougher Israel.
This makes Netanyahu the centrist, adult candidate. Yes – the centrist.
All polls still predict a right-religious victory in the next election, that is, the same coalition or a similar coalition for yet another term. But there are complications:
The ultra-Orthodox camp is in disarray, as Jerusalem’s elections demonstrated yesterday (there was a divide in the Haredi vote in Jerusalem).
We do not yet know if the investigation against Netanyahu will produce more headlines before Election Day.
New candidates are going to enter the fray and might change the political landscape.
Netanyahu just hurt his own image by his decision not to expand the IDF operation in Gaza.
Beware of conspiracy theories, although some of them are quite appealing. Such as: This is a Netanyahu-Lieberman coordinated move. Netanyahu wanted an election and needed an excuse to get one. Lieberman needed a cause around which to rally his voters (and to steal some from Bennet).
A likely scenario: These two will have to reunite following the next election. A likely scenario: Lieberman will once again become Defense Minister.
Was he a good Defense Minister? Lieberman was right to argue in his press conference that his term was quiet, that he handled the job with dignity. And yet, with Gaza in the background he has a problem.
Netanyahu, speaking an hour or so before Lieberman announced his resignation, defended his decision to keep the calm in Gaza. He will get a lot of credit for this position – but not from rightwing voters. Left-wingers will give him credit for Gaza, and vote for someone else. Netanyahu needs to solidify his base amid this decision. If Hamas makes noise again, political calculations will force the PM’s hands.
New elections can always provide surprises, but don’t hold your breath. The polls from the last 24 hours show a somewhat weakened Likud Party and yet a clear advantage for the current coalition over all other possible coalitions. In fact, some of these polls even show the potential for a larger right-of-center coalition that could get as many as 73 seats (the numbers from a Ch. 2 News poll).