Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s revived bid to bring opposition leader, Labor’s Yitzhak Herz, into his coalition government as foreign minister is not acknowledged by either side – the latest exchange of messages took place Sunday night, Aug 1. But its undercurrents are sending squalls to the surface of apparently unrelated issues.
Such issues include the government’s move to postpone public broadcasting reform; the row over how the Hamas terror tunnels were handled in the run-up to the Gaza war; vague media suggestions that Netanyahu may be under investigation for financial irregularities; and the boos aimed at Herzog before he gained his party’s approval for postponing Labor’s leadership contest for a year.
debkafile’s political sources analyze the motives behind these outbursts of contention:
1) Israel’s public broadcasting authority (radio and later TV) has since 1948 been under the control of the Prime Minister’s Office. In 2014, Likud Minister Gilead Erdan initiated legislation for separating state broadcasts from government control in the interests of gaining impartial, independent state media that would be less subject to what his party regards as excessive left-wing influence. This step has been repeatedly delayed by disputes among various pressure groups.
The latest postponement, initiated by the prime minister and approved by Herzog, was a side-product of a deal in the making between the two leaders.
2) The Labor leader put down a mutiny spearheaded by his chief rival Shelly Yacimovic whose faction’s loud heckling and abuse aimed at deflecting his motion to postpone until next year the convention for choosing the next party chairman.
Herzog would need this year to establish himself in his new role as foreign minister if the current negortions bear fruit. The voting went in his favor by 750 to 450 – largely owing to the National Trade Unions Federation (Histadrut) faction’s support. Its secretary general, Avi Nissankorn, was rewarded with a promise of the party’s endorsement of a second term as Histadrut secretary, which Likud would second if Herzog joined the government.
3) Monday night, Aug. 1, the government and Labor opposition tabled a unified Knesset motion to defer instituting the reformed Public Broadcasting Authority to April 1, 2017. It passed its first reading. Alongside the two main parties, the minority orthodox religious parties are also jockeying for a role in the governing bodies of the Authority and editorial staff, complaining they are not represented.
4) Herzog is fully aware that his consent to jump into the Netanyahu government would split Labor, with Yacimovic leading a breakaway left-of-center party. The math that is being carefully examined by him and also by Netanyahu is how many of Labor’s 24 Knesset members Herzog can carry with him over to the government’s benches.
For the prime minister it is crucial to gain more than eight additional MKs, because that is the size of the national Jewish Home party, whose leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett is a thorn in Netanyahu’s side.
5) Bennett knows that if the Labor leader is co-opted to the government coalition, he will lose most of his leverage – or even possibly his place in government.
This accounts mostly for his vocal accusations of negligence in handling the dire security hazard of Hamas terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel in the security cabinet’s deliberations ahead of Operation Protective Edge 2014. The tunnels continue to be built up until the present, despite strenuous IDF efforts to halt it.
Bennett therefore has been touching a sensitive popular chord by assuming the role of Mr. Security on this issue.
But meanwhile, the IDF spokesman stole his thunder Monday, Aug. 2, by revealing that the military had completed its inquiry into the conduct of the Gaza operation and could state with certainty that the tunnels issue had been thoroughly examined ahead of combat.
The army’s revelation was timed to pre-empt the imminent publication of the State Comptroller’s report on the Gaza operation and defend the IDF in case of potentially damaging criticism.
All in all, despite the infighting and maneuvering, Israeli politics retains two relatively stable focuses of power: the Likud prime minister, who manages to sail through one upset after another, and the head of opposition Labor, who is demonstrating unexpected leadership qualities.