We are in a period of confusion and uncertainty. It's not only the weather that oscillates between rain and stifling humidity, the political establishment itself has entered advanced stages of madness. None of the coalition parties has an interest in elections, but all of them are acting as if possessed by a demon, as if early elections are an inoperable disease.
For the past few weeks, everyone has been watching everyone else with a high degree of suspicion. They're especially watching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the one who is likely to drop the bomb, as it were, of announcing early elections. Now it seems as if the prophecy may fulfill itself. If elections are brought forward — it will be Netanyahu's decision. The accepted wisdom is that, if he truly wanted to, Netanyahu could pass the national budget — with ease.
The music of political collapse is all around us, but the loudest noise is the collapse of what used to be the most impenetrable wall of all — the close relationship between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. After Netanyahu's attack on Barak — which took the form of leaked comments to the press — it is clear that things cannot go on as they were, that the tight-knit relationship is over. What haven't Barak and Netanyahu gone through over the past three years? They've been the targets of innumerable attempts to divide them, sully them, break them apart. But they stood firm, to the chagrin and envy of many government ministers and top Likud politicians.
Many people warned Netanyahu of Barak's penchant for betrayal. Remember what he did to Olmert toward the end of his term, they warned. Netanyahu took note and carried on. Until now.
Barak has understood from Netanyahu that he cannot be assured of serving as defense minister in the next government, a fact that forces him to run alone in the next elections. This is why he needed to distance himself from Netanyahu and move out from under the prime minister's shade. Netanyahu saw this as crossing a red line. It's one thing to brief reporters at Haaretz and receive favorable press there, but to drag Netanyahu's name through the Potomac mud is another thing entirely.
Between early elections in Feb. 2013 and holding them at their original date in Oct. 2013 are eight months.
Netanyahu has many political calculations to make: Shas could collapse [with the entry of former Shas leader Aryeh Deri into the fray with his own party]; Avigdor Lieberman's political and legal fate is still up in the air; and Yair Lapid and Shelly Yachimovich could strengthen. Netanyahu might be thinking that it would be better to sacrifice eight months — and hold early elections — in favor of securing four more years, instead of staying in power for another eight months and possibly imperiling that time.