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AVOIDING NEW ELECTIONS

Herbert Zweibon

In The Jerusalem Post (Jan. 18) Caroline Glick has presented a formidable indictment of the Olmert government along with possible scenarios for bringing it down and forcing new elections before they are scheduled in 2010. This is something that many Knesset members, fearful of losing their comfortable seats, have thus far resisted, despite Olmert’s single digit approval ratings. However, Glick overlooks the fact that the Olmert government can be brought down without the need for new elections.

As Glick says, “in every sphere of government, the Olmert government is capsizing the country.” Olmert is overseeing the demise of the educational system, as strikes topple high schools and universities. On the security front, he is negotiating an agreement that would render Israel indefensible. He does nothing to stop rocket assaults on Israel, stands by as Hizbullah, under the UN nose, has rebuilt its arsenal and reasserted its control over southern Lebanon, and vainly hopes the U.S. will take care of Iran.

Now that Israel Beiteinu has finally left the government, Glick looks to defections by Shas (now the coalition’s lonely “right wing” member) and the growing possibility that 11 members of Kadima’s 29 member Knesset faction might bolt to form a new independent party. In that event, writes Glick, “the opposition would have the requisite 61 votes to pass a no-confidence measure and move to early elections.”

But the opposition can come to power without new elections. Under Israeli law, if there are 61 Knesset votes for a no-confidence vote in the government, a petition can be presented to the President for a new Prime Minister to be appointed. The new candidate must be named and, given that the support of the Likud would be essential to assembling those 61 votes (former Kadima 11, Ichud Leumi 9, Israel Beiteinu 11, Shas 12, Aguda 6, Likud 12), it would have to be the Likud’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

There are several virtues to going this route, rather than to new elections. It would prevent Olmert from serving as head of a caretaker government in the period—a minimum of three months—prior to elections, in which time he could still do serious damage. Ehud Barak, in similar circumstances, made what were then unimaginable concessions to Arafat at Camp David—Israel was saved only when Arafat (despite Madeleine Albright famously chasing him through the building) refused to take them. Going this route would also prevent Olmert from preemptively restoring his coalition by wooing Meretz and the Arab parties on the basis that supporting his government was a small price to pay for securing the division of Jerusalem and the hand-over of Judea and Samaria.

The promise of avoiding new elections would also be an inducement for wavering Kadima members. If a third of its Knesset members split from a party (10 members in this case) they keep all the advantages of their party position, the government benefits etc. They would be assured of their Knesset seats for another two years during which time their options would remain open—to rejoin the Likud (from which most of them had originally split), join with yet another party or go to the elections as a new party, if they feel their support is growing. They would come strong out of the gate, basking in the glory of serving as those who saved the country from the existential threat posed by the Olmert government.

There would be another great advantage to this method of replacing Olmert. Netanyahu’s freedom of action would be constrained by his narrow majority. Given Netanyahu’s tendency for the voice to be the voice of a proud nationalist leader and the actions to be those of a weak and supine Labor capitulationist, it is very important that his freedom to follow what to him, once in power, might seem the easier course— giving in to the demands of a bullying American administration—be limited by his coalition partners.

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