On Sunday night at the Likud conference, the settlers won the battle by embarrassing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and forcing him to postpone the vote on his presidency of the Likud's convention. Early Tuesday morning, Netanyahu returned the favor, and won the war.
By striking the kind of deal he struck with Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, the deal of his life, the prime minister has put himself out of the reach of his party's right wing, out of the reach of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's machinations, out of the reach of Shas' extortions, and out of the reach of U.S. President Barack Obama. He has also buried Yair Lapid, who must now go back and have a hard think about his next move. Netanyahu is also out of the reach of Labor's Shelly Yachimovich, Meretz, and the Arab parties — in other words, the opposition, which together makes up no more than 25 Knesset mandates. That's not even enough MKs to force Netanyahu to appear at a Knesset hearing to defend his government's policies. Without any real opposition to his government, and without a quarrelsome coalition to worry about, Netanyahu has put himself beyond anyone's reach. He has, in essence, become Israel's king, the supreme leader.
If Netanyahu can keep this coalition government together until October 2013, the date of the next elections, and if he wins those elections and manages to stay in power for a full third term after that, his total rule as prime minister of Israel (counting his first term in the 1990s) would be about 11 and a half years.
And while Obama will fight for four more years, Netanyahu has all but assured himself five and a half more years in power. Netanyahu may be the Israeli prime minister until January 2018.
What effect will the deal have on the burning issues of the day? Netanyahu now leads a centrist government of 94 MKs, a wide and stable coalition. Foreign news organizations can no longer call his government a "narrow right-wing coalition government." As his new coalition partner Mofaz said Tuesday, there is now a golden opportunity to make some deep, historic structural changes to Israeli society and politics. To change the system of government, to address the imbalance in the burden of military and national service, and to attempt a territorial compromise with the Palestinians. No previous Israeli prime minister has managed to do all three, largely because no previous Israeli prime minister has had such a wide coalition, and such potential stability and power. In short, no Israeli prime minister has been a supreme leader before.
The question now is if we will see Netanyahu wield such immense power wisely. Will we finally see Netanyahu's political and diplomatic vision? Will the Palestinians miss another opportunity to make peace, now that their Israeli partner seems to be in a prime position to deliver a deal? Will there be progress on the Palestinian track? Potentially. Polls have consistently shown a majority of Israelis in favor of a peace deal with the Palestinians based on territorial swaps and solid security guarantees. It won't be easy, and the American administration might push harder on Netanyahu now that he has the political depth to make such a deal.
Will Netanyahu change the Tal Law? Netanyahu will want to keep the ultra-Orthodox in the coalition if he can, just in case Mofaz or Lieberman or both play any dirty tricks on him. So he'll have to find a watered-down Tal Law alternative, just strong enough to satisfy the secular middle class, and just weak enough not to break the china with the haredim.
Will we see meaningful and essential changes in the system of government? This is the dream of many people, but this will be very hard to achieve, again because of the ultra-Orthodox parties, who will want to maintain the status quo. But even without Shas and United Torah Judaism, Netanyahu's government will be strong enough to survive and make serious changes.
What about Iran? With or without a wide national unity government, Netanyahu would have made his own decision on whether to attack Iran alone, without American backing or even American knowledge, with Mofaz or without Mofaz. But having Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defense minister at his side, and with Ehud Barak on his other side, Netanyahu will feel more confident about the way forward regarding Iran. While it may make it easier now for the prime minister to strike Iran, he still has to wait out the P5+1 negotiations, currently scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad.