Why did Netanyahu decide to expand the government at this stage?
Netanyahu’s determination to expand the government goes back to last year’s elections when the government was formed based on a fragile majority (61 MKs out of 120). This fact has caused many tremors in the government, making it susceptible to blackmail. In order to change this reality and fortify the government from collapsing, Netanyahu had no choice but to include Lieberman and his party, or Herzog and his party; preventing the rest of the Jewish parties from entering the Knesset.
When Herzog’s inclusion in the government seemed imminent, the far right and Lieberman sensed the danger that would keep the latter in the opposition isolated and weak. Lieberman backed down from his unrealistic conditions, which were related to the participation of the Haredi parties and agreements with them. He demanded instead the defense portfolio along with other conditions. Thus, Netanyahu could no longer ignore the offer, because he was taking Lieberman’s unrealistic conditions as an excuse to justify his orientation towards the Zionist camp (center-left). But that was no longer the case. In addition, including Lieberman allowed Netanyahu to preside over a purely right-wing government, where he plays a moderate role and a brake for the extreme right.
However, Netanyahu’s interest in joining the Zionist camp is also to provide a broader base for the government, which allows him to balance between the extremists and the “moderates.”
In any case, it seems that Netanyahu’s goal behind his move is to ensure two additional years for his government. Given a normal course of developments in the “Israeli” internal political scene, it would appear that there would be no serious threat to his government before the year 2018. Netanyahu is aware that any competition for the presidency of the government is solely and only derived from within the right-wing camp, especially after the decline in the Labor Party in the face of a stronger Likud. In this case, Netanyahu is betting on the possibility of being able to tame Lieberman with the latter being less harmful in the government than outside it.
The Letter including Lieberman into the government
Although the steps have so far not been formally completed, it seems clear that Netanyahu wanted to send a series of messages in multiple directions:
As for the negative dimension, Netanyahu achieved a milestone represented in breaking up the coalition that appeared to have been formed in recent times between Ya’alon and the Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and his deputy Yair Golan. This was reflected in Ya’alon’s covering up for any officer that declared opinions contrary to the orientations of the political leadership; an issue that exacerbated tensions between him and Netanyahu. This as Lieberman, who was keen on taking the right-wing audience into account, increased his criticism of the military leadership’s performance in recent weeks and months.
As for the settlement letters, Netanyahu delivered a blow to the Arab “moderates” (more correctly those who have surrendered) when he expressed his preference of Lieberman over Herzog. Herzog’s entry into the government under the pretext that this was the way to move the peace process with the Palestinian Authority forward, played into the demands of Arab regimes, which were looking for a political opportunity to justify their movement towards public closeness with “Israel”.
To sum up, Netanyahu once again confirms his attachment to his right-wing ideological choice, which is designed to essentially impose more [illegal] settlements on the West Bank and retain the current political statuesque preventing – at the very least – the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Ya’alon’s temporary resignation from political life came as a reaction to the humiliation he suffered when Netanyahu decided to replace him with Lieberman. Knowing that, the incident followed rising differences between him and Netanyahu. But Ya’alon declared his clear desire to return to political life as a contender to the post of prime minister, and he expressed his dissatisfaction with the political situation, saying that the state and the Likud Party had been taken over by extremist groups.