Netanyahu's coalition starts to crumble

February 24, 2011
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Lieberman: row with PM

Lieberman: row with PM

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remained silent last week after his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, publicly vetoed his plan to appoint the National Security Council chairman, Professor Uzi Arad, as the next ambassador to London.

But this Monday, Mr Netanyahu retaliated on another front. After a stormy Likud meeting, the prime minister ruled that all members would be free to vote according to their conscience on the proposed commission of inquiry into foreign funding of Israeli NGOs. Ostensibly this was an internal Likud affair, but in reality this was a blow to Mr Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, the party that sponsored the inquiry.

There are already enough Likud members who oppose the inquiry as undemocratic to deny it a majority in the Knesset. As a result, Mr Lieberman's latest favourite, Yulia Shamaelov-Berkovich, had to withdraw her proposal.

Smarting, Lieberman also kept silent. But the fact remains that, so far, the three main legislative initiatives by the party have been stymied.

The much-touted "loyalty pledge" law has been bogged down for months in a committee that rarely meets, and the laws designed to make conversion and civil marriage more accessible, an acute need of Yisrael Beiteinu's "Russian" constituency, have been emasculated due to pressure from coalition partner Shas.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is widely thought to have decided to indict Mr Lieberman on money laundering charges. Legal precedent will force him to resign.

Mr Lieberman's lack of inclination to try to solve his differences with Mr Netanyahu seems to indicate that he would prefer to pre-empt the Attorney General and exit the government on his own terms.

The foreign minister believes he can beat the charges in court and, after that, return to lead the right, deposing his old boss, Mr Netanyahu.

If Mr Lieberman does bolt, there are two major question marks. Will his parliamentary minions follow him or will a sufficient number of Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset members break away, allowing the coalition to stay afloat?

And if Mr Netanyahu is left without a working majority, what will he do? He could call elections - but he would risk giving up two more years in power.

The alternative would be a coalition with Kadima, which almost certainly cause an insurrection within Likud and make it easier for a resurgent Mr Lieberman to portray Mr Netanyahu as a traitor.

Last updated: 4:29pm, May 31 2011