Someone once told me that they had recently been in Israel and that it had been a “crazy” time there. I told them that one of the first times I went, Ariel Sharon announced the disengagement from Gaza. The next time I went, Israel completed said disengagement. The time after that, Sharon fell into a coma. I was there during the Israeli students strike of 2007, the Haredi parking lot riots. The list goes on.
The point is, it is always a “crazy” time to be in Israel. There are always new innovations emerging, new complications arising and new movements taking hold. Nothing is ever static.
This article aims to look back at 2012 in Israel. And let me say (only partially tongue-in-cheek), 2012 was a “crazy” year in Israel. One could look back over the last twelve months in Israel and write essay after essay dealing with a great many components of this tumultuous year. One could focus on its conflicts. Or perhaps developments relating to Israel’s standing among the international community. Israel’s role in the 2012 American Presidential election alone will probably inspire more than a few PhD dissertations.
Rather, I am going to reflect on the political developments that have taken place in Israel over the last year. Even as I write, massive things continue to shake up the political situation in Israel (I’ll get there). In the mean time, let’s look back at where Israel started this calendar year.
On January 1, 2012, the Knesset was made up of twelve parties. Today (and for a little over another month), the Knesset is still made of a dozen parties. But much has changed in the meantime.
In early January, after a long and complicated build up, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was formally indicted for accepting bribes during his tenure in office. Olmert did not have a seat in this Knesset, but this indictment has had effects on Israeli politics as the year has continued.
In late March, Kadima held their primaries, and Tzipi Livni, the first woman to be the head of the opposition, lost her seat as the head of Kadima to Shaul Mofaz. Two months later she resigned from the Knesset. Livni is a major voice in Israel for a two-state solution. In 2009, when the current Knesset was formed, Kadima won 28 seats to the Likud’s 27. But because of the spectrum of the remaining seats – they pulled hard to the right – Shimon Peres green-lighted Netanyahu to form a coalition. Talks took place that could have seen Kadima joining a coalition underneath a Bibi leadership, but Livni rejected the notion. Netanyahu instead aligned himself with groups further right than Likud. It was in this context that Avigdor Lieberman, as head of Yisrael Beiteinu with their 15 seats, was able to secure the role of both Israel’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister positions.
In early May, Prime Minister Netanyahu was making calls to dissolve the current Knesset and set a date for the next election for that upcoming September. Israel’s went to sleep understanding that elections were just around the corner. They woke up to find out that Netanyahu and Mofaz had struck a deal and that rather than dissolving the Knesset, Netanyahu was now the head of the largest coalition in Israeli history. His government had grown from 68 seats (out of 120) to 96 seats.
Netanyahu and Mofaz held a news conference to announce the decision and set forth four central issues that their new national unity government aimed to address:
“Legislation that will obligate haredi Orthodox yeshiva students to perform military or national service; amendments to the electoral process; passage of a two-year fiscal budget; and advancing ‘responsible’ peace negotiations with the Palestinians.”
On July 17, barely two months after Time Magazine ran a cover story about Netanyahu titled King Bibi, Shaul Mofaz announces that Kadima would exit the super-coalition over a dispute regarding military conscription for the ultra-Orthodox. One week before, Olmert was acquitted on two of the counts against him, but was convicted on one count of breaching the public’s trust.
In October, the Knesset was dissolved in preparation for new elections in the upcoming January. Just nine days later, on October 25th, Netanyahu and Lieberman announced that the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu were merging together to form one party – Likud Beiteinu. Netanyahu was set to remain first on their roster, followed by Lieberman as number two. Likud as a party will not be on the ballot come January for the first time since Menachem Begin rode them into power in the mid-1970’s.
In late November, Tzipi Livni reemerged to announce the formation of a new party, Hatnuah (The Movement). Several Labor leaders joined the new party, including former Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
In January of 2011, Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, was under increased scrutiny from within to leave the Netanyahu coalition. He formed a new party called Independence, thus maintaining his position as Defense Minister. On November 26 of this year, Barak announced that he will resign from politics after the upcoming elections.
In early December, Lieberman began to “clean house,” forcing many of Yisrael Beiteinu’s top brass off of its roster for the 2013 elections, including Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. One week later, after years of controversy pertaining to alleged abuses of power, Lieberman was formally charged by the Israeli Justice Ministry for breach of trust and fraud. The next day, he resigned his positions as Foreign Minister and as Deputy Prime Minister. Following his resignation, polls show the new party Likud Beiteinu taking only 35 seats in the upcoming elections, down from the combined 42 they currently control.
Elections were originally slated for late 2013. There has been much speculation over why Netanyahu chose to call for early elections (see a piece I wrote on the subject here). Many believe that by holding elections early, Netanyahu helped to prevent Olmert from organizing and running a serious campaign against him. It is widely understood that Bibi currently has no real challengers. It seems safe to say that he will not emerge from these upcoming elections as King, but he will almost certainly retain his Prime Ministership.
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