Both the opposition and coalition are in consensus over one thing: Benjamin Netanyahu’s first 100 days of premiership were officially dubbed “100 days of zigzags.” Netanyahu’s decision to annul the imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) on fruit and vegetables embarrassed both his supporters and rivals.
Ever since the government was formed, everyone – ministers, Knesset members, journalists and commentators – is attempting to figure out what’s going on in the government and at the PM’s Office. One of the senior ministers, who was asked why Netanyahu decided to cave in on the VAT issue, found it difficult to explain the prime minister’s moves – he just rolled his eyes and shrugged. After all, this is not the first time we see Netanyahu zigzagging, he muttered. We’re used to it already.
Another minister complained recently that it’s impossible to know which decisions the prime minister will be taking, and in which direction he’ll be heading. “There’s a serious problem with him,” said the Likud minister over the weekend, before predicting that Netanyahu is expected to cave in on the VAT front because of Shas’ veto. “The prime minister is not attentive. Many people talk to him, but you can never know which decision he’ll be taking and which direction he’ll be heading to. He changes his mind every hour. When you are concerned about keep your job whole day, you cannot take decisions. You’re tied up.”
Indeed, it is difficult to understand the prime minister’s decision-making process. He shifted from overwhelming objection to a Palestinian state only a few weeks ago to billing himself as the facilitator of the national consensus on the two-state solution. It took him two months to internalize that the American pressure was serious and change direction. Meanwhile, Israel’s global status was undermined, and our ties with the Americans became tenser than ever.
‘Israel has no finance minister’
Next, Netanyahu shifted from leading the effort to tax fruit and vegetables to becoming a compassionate man attentive to the people. How did that happen? Again, because of the pressure, this time domestically – on the part of his coalition partners, Shas and Labor. “It’s already become a cliché to say that he is susceptible to pressure and extortion,” said a political source. “Yet this is the good case scenario. The question is why it takes the PM so much time to understand things that others understand much earlier.”
Yet Netanyahu is not the only one to face criticism. “What turned out again,” said one of the senior ministers after being informed that the VAT proposal was annulled, “is that the State of Israel has no finance minister. If I were Steinitz, I would quit.” Indeed, the finance minister was again forced to pay the price for the prime minister’s political ploys.
During the day, Steinitz was still threatening to approve the VAT proposal, with or without Shas’ support. When he entered the Likud faction meeting that day, in front of the television cameras, he dismissed with a hand gesture the possibility that the tax will be annulled. A few hours later, he was forced to sit next to Netanyahu and swallow the bitter pill.
Yet despite all, Netanyahu can take comfort in the fact that for the time being at least, despite the zigzags and the embarrassment, his position as PM is secure. After Lieberman praised the government’s conduct at the Knesset, and as Ehud Barak serves as Netanyahu’s loyal endorser, we saw only 10 Likud members sign MK Tzipi Hotovely’s “dramatic” petition against the notion of a Palestinian state and a settlement freeze.
Or in other words, out of 27 Likud Knesset members, a large majority has been able to digest Netanyahu’s new positions on the diplomatic front and maintain a quiet work enviornment. With or without zigzagging, this is precisely what Netanyahu needs to keep his job as PM.