The truth is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have hung in there for another year. If he had really wanted it, the 2013 budget would have been approved, despite its deep cuts, and everyone would have fallen into line. For a few brief moments, it looked to Netanyahu like he was going to get through it, as if the moment he put all his weight behind it, even the most socially-motivated party members (if there is one) would put their hands up in favor of the budget.
If he couldn't get Shas aboard, he could have gotten friends from Kadima to support the budget, but in the end he decided to let it go. Some prices just aren't worth paying.
During his announcement to the press on Tuesday, Netanyahu mentioned the riots in the Arab world and the economic crises around the globe, but his head was elsewhere. He was thinking about the upheaval in the Center-Left camp — the camp that could jeopardize his re-election. The goings on within the Center-Left were the impetus to push up the elections. The budget thing is just an excuse.
Netanyahu has seen the vacuum in the opposing camp grow ever larger in recent years, like a black hole that swallows anyone it encounters. At the beginning of Netanyahu's term, there was still the former head of Kadima, Tzipi Livni. But under her leadership, Kadima lost more and more ground until it all but disappeared, and Livni herself was swallowed by the void.
The Labor Party voted in a leader who, even in her wildest fantasies, never saw herself as prime minister. Shaul Mofaz, who replaced Livni at Kadima's helm, waved so many different flags when he was elected that he just collapsed under the sheer weight. Newcomer Yair Lapid wants to be the education minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert still spends more time in courthouses than in his own home.
Netanyahu knows full well that this vacuum won't last forever. Something will eventually give. So instead of anxiously waiting around for something to happen, he decided to pull the rug out from under all of them. Get all the mice to come out of their holes now. That is why he is insisting on holding elections as soon as possible. The last thing he wants to give Livni, Haim Ramon, Aryeh Deri and all their friends is time to get organized and on track.
These elections are being launched without a clear agenda. After the social justice protests, the wave of anti-ultra-Orthodox sentiments and the Iranian issue, it is not clear where all this is going. But the direction each individual party is going to go is very clear. Likud, Kadima, Independence and Yisrael Beytenu will take the security-political route. Labor, Lapid's party Yesh Atid and Shas will take the social-economic route. The election process has begun. The swords are being brandished. The holidays are over, and the best show in town has arrived.