Mofaz Has Left the Building

Kadima just voted to leave the government coalition over the issue of drafting haredim into the military. Over at Ottomans and Zionists, Michael Koplow nicely lays out the reasons why many of us didn’t think he’d leave so soon, and what this means now for the future of Likud, Kadima, and the government.

Where both Michael and The Camel’s Nose had predicted Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz would remain in the coalition for his own purposes, Allison Good argued (correctly, it turns out) that a Netanyahu-Mofaz deal simply wouldn’t last long. For my part, I wasn’t sure either way, but I did think Mofaz came out a winner in the coalition agreement because he avoided early elections and could keep Kadima more or less together, at least for a little longer.

I’m not sure if this means he’s now a loser—it depends on how both he and Bibi frame the message. It also depends on conditions within Israel and in the region between now and whenever the election takes place. If the status quo remains in place, there’s nothing to suggest Israelis would turn to Mofaz and Kadima for a new government. They have nothing new/different to offer, and Kadima might not even be around by then.

The only thing I think I would add at this point in time is that while Israeli governments have lately been unable to remain in power for their full four-year mandates, it doesn’t mean parties or politicians are eager for elections. Many of the polls in the run-up to the last several elections have told us that certain parties are going to win big; but months later, at election time, they do much more poorly than originally expected (see: Kadima).

In addition, the volatility in regional politics and within Israel itself make the time between calling an election and voting day extremely long by political standards—as Shimon Peres found out in 1996. Israeli politicians understand the uncertainty generated by calling elections, and typically those in the government try to avoid this as much as possible.

The coalition remains in place as of this writing, but Yisrael Beiteinu or the haredi parties could still bolt. The former still wants the haredim to serve, so Bibi will still have to balance the two out. I think it will depend on whether these parties believe they are stronger now and can bend Bibi and the government to their preferences (in which case their efforts could prompt the other to break up the coalition and cause new elections), or whether they think they’re weaker vis-à-vis Bibi (in which case they will likely feel it’s more prudent to conserve their energies by hiding in the coalition).

Of course, surprises happen often in Israeli politics. And given how many people made assumptions about the Likud-Kadima coalition, and were wrong, one can never be too sure…

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