Yaalon may return, but Herzog's sinking

May 26, 2016 11:17

When Ariel Sharon was forced to resign from the Defence Ministry in February 1983, his friend Uri Dan memorably said: "They didn't want him as defence minister. They'll get him as prime minister." It took 18 years for that prophecy to be fulfilled.

In his resignation speech on Friday, Moshe Yaalon announced he was taking "time out", though he would continue to "challenge for national leadership". Unlike Sharon, he jumped before being pushed, resigning from the Knesset and spurning a belated offer from Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as foreign minister.

If Mr Yaalon indeed intends to remain in public life and return to the political fray then, at least for now, he is the most prominent figure in the growing "anti-Netanyahu" camp within the Israeli centre-right.

He will find, however, that it is a crowded field. The undisputed figurehead of this camp is President Reuven Rivlin, who shares Mr Yaalon's hawkish views on the non-viability of the two-state solution, and also his commitment to what both men see as Israel's under-threat liberal values.

As president, however, Mr Rivlin will not be running for office, at least not in the next five years of his term. The same cannot be said of four other figures vying for the top slot; former Likud minister Gideon Saar, Yesh Atid Leader Yair Lapid, former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and leader of Kulanu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, now one of the few remaining moderate voices in cabinet. Mr Yaalon stands above them, in terms of his experience and in his squeaky clean public image but, in campaigning terms, he is a poor politician.

Any prospect of a return, whether as a challenger to Mr Netanyahu within Likud, or at the helm of a new centre-right party, will largely be conditional on at least some of the other candidates falling in behind him. But apart from Mr Kahlon, they have not shown any intention to serve as deputies.

Meanwhile, for the official leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, things look increasingly bleak.

Zionist Union backbenchers are lining up to demand his resignation over the "humiliation" of the botched coalition talks with Likud, while a growing number of leadership challengers are demanding a date for primaries.

Leaders of the other three opposition parties have said they no longer recognise his overall leadership.

The only thing Mr Herzog now has going for him is the rivalry between those seeking to replace him. But it is hard to see how long he can hang on.

Over his shoulder, there is another former leader, sporting a new, dapper beard and giving interviews that warn of "budding fascism" in Israeli society. He may have broken with the party five years ago, but if there is one thing constant in Israel's volatile politics, it is that Ehud Barak is always ready to take the call.

May 26, 2016 11:17

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