Bennett Refuses to Learn From the Mistakes of His Ideological Fathers

The right-wingers who brought down Shamir in 1992 and Netanyahu in 1999 got the Oslo Accords and talks with Yasser Arafat.

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Naftali Bennett, left. He's making Benjamin Netanyahu's life a living hell. Credit: Emil Salman

Anyone who thinks Israel’s new, young, cool right wing is much different from its musty old predecessors is probably about to have his eyes opened. The head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, has apparently learned nothing from his ideological ancestors.

I’m talking about the guys who brought down Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 and got Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo Accords. And don’t forget the ones who brought down Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999 and got Ehud Barak and the Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat.

Now, in 2014, Bennett is threatening to leave Netanyahu’s government over its intention to release Israeli Arab murderers in a deal to spring U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard. It must be admitted that linking Israeli Arab security prisoners with the talks with the Palestinian Authority is disturbing. The idea probably turns Netanyahu’s stomach, but he operates in a complex and convoluted world of political exigencies and strategic necessities.

It’s not only Bennett who won’t give the prime minister tactical slack to gain some precious time. It’s also Likud’s right wing, including deputy ministers Zeev Elkin, Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely, as well as coalition chairman Yariv Levin. They’re all expected to resign if the prisoner release goes through.

Bennett arrived at a television news studio Sunday night with the kind of sound bites he learned from his esteemed mentor, Bibi, during Bennett’s brief and unhappy time as Netanyahu’s chief of staff. “We must draw a red line!”; “Who’s the prime minister, Bibi or Abu Mazen?” Bennett said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "The whole world is laughing at us.”

Either Bennett is playing a dangerous game or he’ll really leave the cabinet if the deal goes forward. We could infer from Bennett’s remarks that he might be able to live with the release of Israeli Arab terrorists. If they were stripped of their citizenship, they’d no longer be Israelis, right? Or if they were deported to Gaza or Nablus, you'd never meet one while waiting at the checkout counter at a supermarket in Hadera, as Bennett so colorfully put it.

Of course, one would think solutions of this kind are the stuff of fiction — solutions that would need the approval of the attorney general.

Meanwhile, if the talks with the Palestinians break down and are not extended beyond April 29, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and her Hatnuah party will turn into the coalition’s ticking time bomb. The Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday Habayit Hayehudi is not monolithic and that if the time came, there’s no certainty each of its 12 MKs would bolt the coalition. Call it wishful thinking or an educated guess, but 15 months after the last election, the coalition’s lack if homogeneity presents it with a clear and present danger.

A departure by Habayit Hayehudi and three Likud deputy ministers would make Netanyahu the head of a minority government. Still, it’s unlikely Habayit Hayehudi MKs would vote with Arab legislators to topple the government. And as long as the government isn’t toppled, it’s still a government.

Of course, the government’s life would become a living hell; no legislation would be passed. Netanyahu would be better off telling the president he wants to dissolve the Knesset because he can’t rule.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party can’t replace Habayit Hayehudi in the government, even if Isaac Herzog and his friends wanted to. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ruled out this possibility last week by saying he’d prefer an election over a change in the coalition.

Between the right’s rock and the left’s hard place, Netanyahu is off for his Passover vacation. At the seder table Monday night he’ll try to figure out which political partner is the wise son, which is the wicked, which is the simple and which does not know how to ask. Even more, he’ll try to figure out why he has been condemned to live with them.

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