The press release the Prime Minister’s Office released Monday evening, minutes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Finance Minister Yair Lapid, told the whole story: If the campaign slogan of latter's Yesh Atid party last year was “We’ve come to change,” then the premier’s slogan for this meeting was, “We’ve come to humiliate” – his bitter rival.
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The media announcement was worded like a series of directives issued by a military commander to a new recruit: Stop the subversion! Support the nation-state bill! Allocate more funds for defense!
The biggest thorn, of course, was saved for last: Freeze the zero-VAT bill, which would have allowed certain groups of home buyers to purchase new apartments without paying value added tax. This was Lapid’s flagship legislation, and now he was being ordered to “come up with realistic housing solutions.”
That was the final nail in this coalition’s coffin.
Netanyahu knows – as does anyone familiar with Israel's political arena – that if there’s one thing the finance minister will not abandon, it’s the zero-VAT plan. Yesh Atid members said Monday that Lapid went into his meeting Netanyahu with an open mind and willing heart, but found a prime minister who was angry and apparently determined to end the 18-month nightmare known as Netanyahu’s third government. This was a coalition born of force, coercion and anger, and it looks like its end will be likewise.
Barring any miracles in the coming days, it seems the die has been cast and elections are in the offing. They are looming because Netanyahu has finally made a decision. It was always up to him. Until Sunday he “was at a loss,” as one of his senior ministers described it; he was wavering between yes or no, between desire and fear. But sometime on Monday it clicked. He understood that the lack of trust, suspicion and bad blood had gone too far; that the relationships between the senior coalition partners had deteriorated so badly that they could never be restored, leaving no choice but to break up the government. He believes that after a new election, he will be able to form a bloc of 52 to 54 MKs with the ultra-Orthodox parties and Habayit Hayehudi, which will give him the key to a fourth term.
These elections will be the strangest, most superfluous elections ever held here. They will be held solely because of the mutual loathing that government and party leaders have for one another.
On Monday there was another rumor spreading through the PMO – that Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni were planning to ambush Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum by voting in favor of a routine no-confidence motion filed by the Labor Party and supporting its chairman, Isaac Herzog, for prime minister.
Netanyahu, in a very rare move, asked for a roll-call vote, so he could see how the Yesh Atid MKs voted. They supported the government, as expected, but the premier was not placated. He will apparently never be able to relax as long as he is forced to work with them.