What Does Netanyahu Really Want?

This is the only question that will determine the fate of the Israeli political system in the next few days.

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Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Likud event, Nov. 11, 2014.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Likud event, Nov. 11, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The only question that will determine the fate of the political system in the next few days is: Is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still interested in his government continuing in its present form, a government that he was sick of before it even arose, and even more so afterwards. Or is Netanyahu interested in a different coalition that will be built gloriously on the Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and the Haredi parties.

Yesterday he showed amazing determination. The day before he even invited the Haredim to meet with him to signal to the entire world that he had options. If he really is striving for a blow-up, or is only enjoying showing his strength to make points with the right and push his finance minister into a corner, only he knows, for now.

The second half of the equation, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, is not interested in elections where he only has what to lose. He made this clear last evening in his interviews to the press. At the same time, he too continued to dig in and left only a narrow opening for a compromise over budget matters. So as we have said, it all depends on Netanyahu.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for example, has been convinced for a while that Netanyahu has already decided to dismantle this Pandora’s box; and that the prime minister has sealed the deal – her–metically – with the Haredi parties, and the elections will be held in the spring of 2015. This is also the reason that Lieberman has warned his party to leave their skis in the closet and forget about winter vacations.

Lieberman the potential sapper

It is actually Lieberman who is the sole politician around with the power to defuse the ticking bomb leading to new elections. He also has no interest in meeting the electorate in the near future, and he is experienced enough to mediate and calm the agitated spirits. He is trusted by two of those fighting: Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who yesterday opened her own front against the Likud over the Basic Law for Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People. But it is not certain that Netanyahu is capable of trusting the ally who turned into a bitter enemy, and again, it is not clear he even wants to. Yesterday evening, it seemed as if the coalition train was hurtling at full speed toward the edge of the cliff.

What was said yesterday about the warring sides reminds one a little of the analyses and estimates on the eve of Operation Protective Edge: Both sides are not interested in an escalation, and both have a joint desire to “contain the conflict,” and they are responsible enough to manage a crisis. We all remember how that turned out.

But on one thing there is no disagreement, and it also fits very nicely into the security metaphor: Those taking part in this coalition craziness hate one another – Livni hates Netanyahu, Netanyahu hates Bennett, and vice versa. Lapid hates Netanyahu, and vice versa – as they hate the coexistence forced on them, brother alongside his sister. and vice versa.

It seems all that interests them at the moment is to set a trap for one another, to present the partner-enemy as an irresponsible hooligan, stubborn, and as refusing to agree to anything. Who needs the opposition with such a coalition? What do we need for example – today – with the Jewish state law to define Israel as the state of the Jewish people? If anyone has any doubts about it, they stem only from the debates and fights over the wording of this superfluous law.

The only reason Netanyahu insists so stubbornly on passing the law is the coming election campaign. It is an election season law, nothing more. And this is also the reason that Livni is going crazy in her efforts to block it.

Lapid's obsession

At the same time, why does Netanyahu want to bury the health reforms of Yael German? Because the health minister is from Yesh Atid, and Lapid wants the reforms in the Jewish National Fund and the zero VAT on apartments for new home buyers – which Netanyahu sees as a disaster – and many other things as well. And Lapid has his obsession that is expressed in zero willingness to compromise on the process of passing the budget.

So Lapid either thinks Netanyahu is afraid and will fold, or Netanyahu is convinced Lapid is chicken – with or without the colorful suffix provided by Obama’s aides – and he will be the one to blink first. Or both of them are mistaken, and Israel will march off to unnecessary elections, only two years after the previous ones.