Something very weird just happened on the Israeli political scene. Or perhaps it’s better to say, something even weirder than usual.
Israel was in the midst of preparing for new elections in September, ones called by Prime Minister Netanyahu from a position of relative strength and ones that showed every sign of returning him to the Prime Minister’s office, quite possibly with a more stable majority.
But now, out of the blue, the elections have been called off.
Let me do my best to explain.
Kadima (Forward) is the party Ariel Sharon founded after he broke from Likud, just before his incapacitating stroke in early 2006. It was originally the biggest party in Israel and the governing party under Ehud Olmert. Then leadership of the party passed to Tzipi Livni, who was the opposition leader after Netanyahu formed his new government in early 2009. Over the last three years, Kadima was, broadly speaking, a centrist party which was clearly on the partition/two states for two peoples side of the line. So relatively hawkish, but pro-two states.
Yet even though it remained the opposition party, it was rapidly losing steam in recent years. And it looked likely that it would fall from second largest party to maybe third or fourth largest party. And then a month or so ago, Livni lost an internal Kadima leadership election and was replace by Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister who was seen as less focused on the peace question than Livni and also more of a hawk.
Still with me? It’s complicated.
Okay, so now we’re with Mofaz as the new leader of the opposition Kadima party and going into an election in which it looked like that Kadima would lost a lot of seats.
Now, to pretty much everyone’s great surprise, Netanyahu has just made a deal with Mofaz to join a coalition government and cancel the elections.
There are various conceivable interpretations of this move — one is simply that we’re seeing another example, a la Barak, of the Knesset majority simply being a magnet for the careerism of ex-generals. One might suppose bringing Kadima into government would make Netanyahu less reliant on the settler right wing and more flexible on the peace front. But there really does not seem to be any sign evidence that that is what this is about.
Just on the face of it, it seems most logical in terms of Mofaz’s self-interest. He goes from being an ex-General primed to lead a once governing party into collapse at the next election to being Deputy Prime Minister and perhaps Defense Minister in the government. On its fact, for him, that’s not a bad bargain.
I’m curious to hear what knowledgable readers make of this. I’ll add more to this post as we learn more.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.