A bill for dissolving the Knesset was tabled by the Likud MK Zeev Elkin on behalf of the government coalition Wednesday, May 2. The presumed date is Sept. 4, 2012. But before the Israeli prime minister even had a chance to fix the date for the snap poll rushing toward Israel in the fall, politicians of many hues from a whole range of veteran, small and new parties were already staking their claims for jobs in the post-election government. Defense Minister Ehud Barak led the pack with a news conference Wednesday, announcing he would run at the head of his Independence Party (which last year split from Labor) to fill the same portfolio in the future government because he was sure Binyamin Netanyahu would never find a better candidate for the job.
With election fever rising, the defense minister had nothing to say at his news conference about the three possibilities confronting Israel on the Iranian nuclear question:
1. A deal under which the US and five world powers let Iran carry on with its nuclear program in curtailed form.
Two days earlier, Barak said he did not believe their negotiations would lead anywhere, which led to the premise that Israel faces two choices: Go to war against Iran either alone or with the United States. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz suggested the second possibility on March 26 when he spoke of “other nations” preparing with Israel to stop a nuclear Iran.
For now, the defense minister is busy with another urgent task: campaigning for his party against a host of new and old challengers. He should not find it hard to retain, or even add to, its five Knesset seats, because many centrist voters in search of the stability offered by the Netanyahu administration, who may be reluctant to cast their vote for his right-of-center Likud, would have less qualms about the highly experienced Barak, a former Labor prime minister himself, carrying on in the defense ministry where he has Netanyahu’s ear. Independence might therefore do surprisingly well.
Barak would have two obvious rivals to beat for defense: Likud Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon, and the new opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, a former chief of staff and defense minister.
Ya’alon is Barak’s most dangerous rival for defense, because this post would give him a straight shot in the Likud infighting for the position of Netanyahu’s heir. Mofaz will give them both a hard fight – that is if he is invited to join the next government – because from that august position he would hope to arrest Kadima’s steady plunge in the polls and prove he can succeed where Tzipi Livni whom he ousted in the party primary failed.
At least one new face is making waves: After weeks of campaigning through Facebook, the youngish former broadcaster Yair Lapid unveiled his new party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future), with a speech which recalled some of Barack Obama’s mannerisms.
Although his platform is fuzzy, he is very clear on one issue: He has no intention of “rotting on the opposition benches” of the Knesset. He is going into politics to be part of government.
Another former journalist, Shelly Yachimovitch, who too faces her first election at the head of Labor, is reported by her associates as equally determined to take her party across the aisle. The word going around is that she aspires to the job of finance minister, but dare not go public on this ambition because it might cost her the potential support of the “Social Justice” protest movement, which blossomed last summer in several Israeli towns.
Some say she is already quietly negotiating with Prime Minister Netanyahu for a cabinet post. She too is challenged: Student leader Itzkik Shuly, who made his mark last summer as a steady and balanced leader of the protest movement, is reported to be weighing joining Labor as the quickest route to a ministerial seat at the age of 32. This wold make him a spring chicken on Israel’s political scene. That is if he doesn’t get a better offer from Yair Lapid who would definitely aim to pull the rug from under Yachimovich.
This scramble for jobs is already underway before the campaigning. None of the bidders appears to doubt that Likud will win the election with roughly 30 seats (in the 120-strong Knesset) and its leader Netanyahu his third term as prime minister. They are all eager to break up the right-of-center factions’ grip on government and parliament.
When it comes to handing out jobs, therefore, Netanyahu will be hard pressed between the safe choice of leaving enough to pass around his own party and Israel Beitenu and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and Torah Judaism – the right-of center allies serving in his current government – or bring in fresh, more youthful faces and talents.
Caught on the horns of this dilemma, Netanyahu may go the modular course: Defense for Barak; social welfare portfolios for Yachimovich (Likud will keep finance) and Yair Lapid as a possible deputy prime minister, a device he has used lavishly to duck pressures by giving aspiring politicians a seat at the cabinet table and the semblance of high office – but not much to do.
However, the process is only just beginning. The campaign, the vote and the post-election bargaining for a new government are yet to come.