The Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El.
The Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El. Photo by Emil Salman
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Israelis don't change, unless someone or something creeps up on them from a direction they never look, and slips the comfort zone rug out from under them. The rug may be frayed to the floor, faintly gummy to the touch, it may be mined with thorns and shards of shattered glass. But they'll hang onto it for what passes for dear life.

Unless …

For Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu was that rug, that comfort zone that they didn't really care for, but, overwhelmed and despairing and tired, they were unmotivated and, in fact, fearful to change.

But there was something in the queaze and the unease in Benjamin Netanyahu's eyes Sunday night, as he suffered the selective enthusiasm and politely delayed booing of his Likud party convention, that suggested that if anyone was going to slip the rug on the people of Israel, he was going to make sure that the source of the pull would be the Prime Minister's Office.

Netanyahu's decision to keep his friends close and his opposition closer, devolves from his intimate knowledge of three of the cardinal rules of Israeli politics. 1. Only the right can topple the right. 2. The right doesn't trust Bibi any farther than it can coerce and blackmail him. 3. For that reason, Netanyahu cannot know who his friends are.

He saw it best in the understated lynch mob atmosphere of the Likud gathering. Hundreds packing the hall, loudly, proudly undermining Netanyahu. This man who had just completed the shiva, the mourning period, for a father whom he loved as he loved no one else on this earth.

For decades, the Likud central committee was a raucous, riotous, chair-hurling carnival of party loyalists who would do anything to get their man elected. The key word here was loyalist. Begin was not their party chairman. He was their King. They sang it as loudly as the national anthem. Much louder, in fact. As they did for Ariel Sharon after him.

But this crowd, this week, in this next Israel, booed, howled, demanded that a candidate of the new right and the settlement-or-bust movements be allowed to challenge Netanyahu. And this from a group of delegates who don't even intend to vote Likud, which they see as too bourgeois, centrist, and undogmatic for the purity of their path.

A broader government, a government which is less malleable, less amenable to leverage, is not good news for the right. But a government in which, to survive politically, Mofaz and the 28-strong Kadima faction will have to try to shift the aircraft carrier toward the center - toward the concensus of the Israeli electorate, toward a peace process with the Palestinians - may well be good news for the Jews, and for Israel's future.

If this government, if only to justify its existence, acts on Mofaz and Netanyahu's pledge to change the system of government, to one more stable and less vulnerable to emotional and sectarian blackmail, this will also mean bad news for the right, but good news for Israel as a whole.

The hard right is still bleeding and seething from the wounds of Likud-led withdrawals from territory captured in 1967. It was a Likud prime minister who betrayed them in 1979 and dismantled settlements in Sinai. It was a Likud prime minister who betrayed them in 2005, demolishing settlements in Gaza and in the northern West Bank.

Then, on Monday, the High Court, whom the right believed it had managed to pack with jurists sympathetic to the settlements, slapped the government for trying to duck and weave explicit court orders to demolish illegal settlements.

Suddenly, Netanyahu was facing a September election in which, in July and again in August, his government would face the potential political catastrophe of evacuating Migron, the Alamo of Mateh Binyamin, as well as the tidy, suburban Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El, one of the ideological strongholds of the settler movement.

For the moment, Netanyahu may have shifted his settler problem to the back burner. Now, all he has to deal with, is everyone else.

For the moment, to gain traction, the left doesn't have to say a word. It need only point to the newspaper. And not just this one. Any newspaper. This is what the reader will see:

This is no longer the elected government of Israel. This is the hand-picked junta of the state of Bullpucky. There is the defense minister whom no one in Israel will vote for, the justice minister whom no one has ever voted for, the foreign minister for whom elections have been a keep-out-of-jail card, and now Mofaz.

It was just last week that Shaul Mofaz telling everyone who would listen, that Netanyahu and Barak were unfit to run this country, inappropriate to meet its social challenges, ill-equipped to deal rationally with the one issue that consumes them, Iran.

Apparently, in exchange for a cabinet post at a time when Kadima is plummeting in polls, Mofaz now concedes that Netanyahu and Barak are at least fit to run Shaul Mofaz.

Watch what happens to the polls now.

Keep your eye, especially, on Labor and Meretz and Hadash. And keep your eye, as well, on Rabin Square. Summer is coming in early this year. So are social justice protests. The same protests that the election campaign was meant, in part, to undercut.

Israelis know bullpucky when they've stepped in it. And, in this case, they know bullpucky when they've had their noses rubbed in it. And when it's bullpucky that slips the rug of their comfort zone, they can tire of that very quickly.

Keep your eye on the polls, and on the square. Bibi will, for sure. And he's not going to like what he sees.

Things change when the rug slips. Netanyahu knows that this one may slip under him as well.