If one were to describe Israeli politics in soccer lingo, one would say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most of his ministers are one team, while the parliamentary right is another. And yesterday, Netanyahu made it through to the semifinals.
He did not just make it through, he made it through with flying colors, with a spectacular 3-0 score. Nor was this just any 3-0. It was a rare instance of three searing own goals scored by what we term "the right."
So if Netanyahu plans on presenting himself to U.S. President Barack Obama as Poor Samson, he needs to realize that the Americans are very well aware of what has been going on here over the past two months: Every time Netanyahu was challenged by the right - in his party, the cabinet or the Knesset - he won. If Netanyahu feels weak, he is the source of his own weakness.
The right's most recent own goal was at yesterday's meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. A bill by MKs Uri Ariel (National Union ) and Carmel Shama (Likud ), which would have transferred the authority to decide whether to continue the freeze on settlement construction to the Knesset, expired with a whimper. Even Benny Begin voted against it - only for constitutional reasons, but that changes little: The Americans noted yesterday that Netanyahu defeated the right for a third time.
The right's first own goal was scored two months ago, when the Likud Central Committee kicked Moshe Feiglin and his far-right faction down the stairs by rejecting his attempt to turn an internal party decision to postpone elections for party institutions into a party referendum on the partition of Jerusalem and other diplomatic concessions. The central committee went - indeed, ran - with the prime minister, and the only thing the right achieved was getting the committee to effectively sign a blank check for progress in talks with the Palestinians.
The second own goal was landed last month, when MK Danny Danon and his allies convened the central committee to decide that the construction freeze would end on the originally promised date. Netanyahu and his ministers did not even bother to attend the meeting; the media practically ignored it; and not even many central committee members bothered to show up. What was supposed to have been a colossal clash between the prime minister and his opponents became a tiny item buried deep in the back pages of the newspapers.
What has become of the days when the Likud Central Committee would convene to fence in a prime minister - like Yitzhak Shamir or Ariel Sharon - and the entire country would hold its breath, the entire Middle East would skip a heartbeat? What has become of the days when the Knesset would pass diplomatic resolutions to embarrass and impede prime ministers like Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert?
After the failure of the campaign against the disengagement from Gaza, after Netanyahu rammed through the construction freeze and announced his support for a two-state solution without any of his rightist ministers even emitting a squeak of protest, we have once again seen that the feared and vaunted "right" is little more than a loose coalition that specializes in shooting itself in the foot. Now all that remains to be seen is what Netanyahu will do about it.