Dramatic Changes in Israeli Government: The Day After

The plenum hall of the Knesset (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The plenum hall of the Knesset (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As the world began to catch its breath after Wednesday’s frenetic remake of the coalition, further details emerged about Avigdor Liberman’s entry into the government, along with a plenitude of reaction.

In the negotiations with Likud, Liberman has agreed to drop some of his most contentious demands, including increased drafting of yeshivah students, civil unions, and liberalized conversions, according to Ynet. This was apparently the tradeoff for Likud support for the death penalty for terrorists.

In another concession, Liberman will go along with the Netanyahu policy officially endorsing the two-state solution.

“If a coalition is formed, it’s important to note that both PM Netanyahu and Liberman support a solution based on two states for two peoples. In fact, it has historically been right-wing governments, like that of Menachem Begin, which achieved peace with our Arab neighbors like Egypt,” a government source told The Times of Israel.

In a parting shot on Thursday, outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that the nation had “lost its moral compass.” Although he did not refer specifically to the cabinet changes, the remark made to the heads of Israel’s youth movements at the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters was interpreted in that context.

Yaalon said that he wasn’t surprised by the recent turn of events or by the storm of criticism he’s been subjected to from what he regards as an outspoken minority who “in full volume attack our basic values.”

Isaac Herzog and Moshe Yaalon were not the only one disappointed by Wednesday’s sudden turnabout. The repercussions have been international in scope.

Egyptian officials expressed shock and anger at the news of Herzog’s rejection in favor of Liberman.

Egyptian officials close to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi decried “the political bazaar” that Netanyahu is holding “at the expense of the peace process.”

“We are, of course, not interfering in Israel’s internal politics, but we’re following the situation and calculating our moves,” a senior Egyptian diplomatic official was quoted by Ynet as saying.

“We have to admit that we received a real shock: We started with Herzog and we’re ending up with Liberman,” the Egyptian official said.

“Netanyahu,” the official continued, “managed to surprise us at the last moment. We’re used to surprises on the Israeli side, but this time it’s a bad surprise that we were really not prepared for.”

Liberman has been persona non grata in Cairo ever since as foreign minister he threatened, during then-President Mubarak’s reign, to blow up the Aswan Dam during a diplomatic flap at the time.

Egyptian political advisers said that al-Sisi will not rescind his support of the peace initiative, “but what’s happening right now in Israeli politics teaches Egypt an important lesson: We must conduct ourselves cautiously, slowly, and demand guarantees and supervision by a third party for every move and every decision made.”

Europe, too, watched Wednesday’s events with dismay. It turns out that an alliance of foreign leaders led by former British prime minister Tony Blair was deeply involved in the failed effort toward a national unity government, according to media reports.

Blair was coordinating his actions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog, Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, according to Haaretz.

This was what Sissi had in mind when he declared earlier in the week there was a “real opportunity” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the reports said.

A spokeswoman for Blair declined to comment.

The story dominated the Israeli media all Wednesday and Thursday, and the leading papers ran multiple op-eds as well.

Yisrael Hayom called it a “revolution” on its front page.

Veteran columnist Dan Margalit of Yisrael Hayom agreed with Likud MK Benny Begin’s assessment that Liberman’s appointment as defense minister is “a grave error” and “a national burden.” He reluctantly predicts that Liberman “could entangle Israel with the whole world with his unchecked aggression or turn out to actually be a trained poodle.”

Haaretz, not surprisingly, condemned the decision, saying that placing “responsibility for the army and the mechanism for occupying the territories in his hands means he can generate crises and endanger the national interest without limit.”

It rails at Netanyahu for endangering national security “just to protect his regime.”

Columnist Nahum Barnea calling it “a tragedy dressed up as a comedy.” Barnea’s main point was that Liberman has no military experience and poor judgment.

Columnist Ben Dror-Yemini wrote: “A disaster? It’s better to wait and see. True, here and there the Yisrael Beytenu head has been heard saying things that would make one shudder. But the truth is there are two of them. One is Yvet [Liberman], the scary politician, who teeters between the right and far-right, and then there is Liberman, a serious and responsible politician.”

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