The truth is that Shelly Yachimovich has been trying for a few weeks now to convince people that she will not join Netanyahu's next government. The chances are zero, she replied whenever anyone asked what she plans to do on January 23. I can't sit in the next government; I can't support the budget cuts Netanyahu is planning. I can't see myself as part of such an extremist coalition.
But the "good souls," including those in the Labor Party, questioned the credibility of her remarks and pointed to her friendship with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar as some sort of secret channel of the coalition negotiations. Then the public and voters began asking questions about her real intentions – and it became dangerous.
On Thursday these elements became a critical mass. Following consultations, Yachimovich decided to do something that would shake up the political establishment and the dull election campaign, and bring Labor back to 19 Knesset seats along the way. The latest polls have shown that support for Labor has decreased and indicated to the party's campaign directors that the voting public is beginning to question the personal integrity of its chairwoman. Or in other words: She is shouting during the election campaign, but after the elections she will act just as Ehud Barak did four years ago and rush to join the government.
Yachimovich feared that the rumors would become headlines - and then facts. Therefore, she was forced to take action in order to stop the deterioration. This could not be done without a drama that would rock the entire system and make it clear to everyone she will not join a Likud-led government.
Rightist social alternative
Yachimovich's act was called for, mainly because someone with an economic vision such as her own cannot sit in Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Someone like that must be an alternative.
"Bibi is trapped," says a senior official at Labor's campaign headquarters. "Things can happen over the course of the next three weeks that will change the general picture, because people are walking around with the depressing belief that the elections have already been decided. Therefore, we had to take a dramatic step. People must realize that Bibi is stuck on every issue. He is a captive of the Feiglins in Likud and Habayit Hayehudi; he is a captive of Shas when it comes to civil matters; and he is his own captive when it comes to the economy. He is on his way to a messianic government. It's unbelievable."
Factually, Labor is right. The Likud and Netanyahu are conducting themselves in a manner professionals would refer to as schizophrenic. On the one hand, they have muzzled all of the Knesset members and ministers, who are forbidden from giving interviews without prior authorization so that, God forbid, they won't let some truthful comment slip out accidentally. On the other hand, Netanyahu is trying to appeal to the right and far-right and is instructing his people to make bizarre promises regarding the annexation of the territories. However, due to polls showing Likud-Beiteinu is losing more ground, Likud is also trying to appeal to the moderate centrist voters and accuses Habayit Hayehudi of chauvinism and rightist extremism.
Likud is telling everyone what they want to hear without saying what its own plans for the coming years are.
In light of Yachimovich's move, Lapid and Livni are now caught in a dilemma. They will not rush to follow in Yachimovich's path, particularly in light of the fact that both Yesh Atid and Hatnua are "mood" factions, and sitting in the opposition may lead to their disappearance from the political arena. Livni did not return to politics to sit on the dreary benches of the opposition. She came back to be influential; to be a part of the next government.
Lapid, for his part, is also aware of the risk involved in sitting far from where decisions are made, so he prefers to attack Yachimovich and leave the door open for the possibility of joining the next coalition. Livni and Lapid's hesitance, by the way, may cost them Knesset seats, and Shas, which has become the only rightist social alternative, stands to gain the most from this. While it is true that Shas becomes a rubber stamp for every government looking to cut funding for the weaker segments of the population, during elections those who shout louder win the battle for the headlines.