ANALYSIS / Netanyahu Hamstrung by His Unruly Coalition

Lands reform fiasco came about after a number of MKs in the government abandoned the premier.

Benjamin Netanyahu's gray, sunken face said it all. He sat almost alone at the cabinet table, his right hand drumming nervously on a pile of papers, while he looked helplessly on as his flagship - "the reform of the Israel Lands Administration" - sank slowly into the parliamentary depths, to the opposition members' cries of joy.

From a coalition of 74 Knesset members, most of whom had received a post, perks or other goodies from Netanyahu only 115 days go, he is left with 48 MKs who have stuck it out with him in difficult times.

All the rest have abandoned him, turning their backs without hesitation.

Such spectacles are usually observed in the second half of a Knesset's term, not at the beginning. Yesterday marked the official beginning of the abominations in the second Netanyahu government.

Someone in Likud called it "the Israel malfunctions administration."

As far as Netanyahu is concerned, it's hard to overestimate the gravity of yesterday's events. The rebellion sent bile to every corner of the coalition - Likud, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu, United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi. Only Shas was at his side at the crucial moment, and he will have to pay with compound interest for this rare display of loyalty.

The most severe event was Minister Moshe Ya'alon's walking out of the main hall a moment before the vote. We have become accustomed to all kinds of vagaries, but a vice premier who is also a rebel? That's not something we see every day.

And then there was MK Tzipi Hotovely. Six months ago Netanyahu pulled her out of a remote television program and built her up all the way to the Knesset. Since she got in she has been against everything - tax deductions for childcare, a demilitarized Palestinian state and land reform.

When will she be for something already? Netanyahu cannot fire Hotovely from the Knesset, but Ya'alon in any properly-run country would be handing his car back by now.

No less serious is the coalition's functioning, or more to the point, the performance of the coalition whip, MK Zeev Elkin.

He is Netanyahu's intelligence officer in the field. His job is to protect Netanyahu from such humiliations and farces. Elkin is becoming a problem, or rather, he is not the problem but its symptom.

Netanyahu's problem is that his coalition will help him survive.

It won't topple him, because it has no alternative Bibi, but it also won't let him make any significant moves. No VAT on fruits and vegetables, no restrained budget and no real peace process.

Every time he wants to prove his independence, they won't give two hoots about him. Because he, too, has no alternative coalition.

Yesterday Netanyahu threatened to fire ministers who won't vote with him the next time.

Ehud Barak and other ministers from the Labor Party have already promised to behave.

Ya'alon and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Hershkowitz, who also abandoned the plenum yesterday, remain.

When only the two of them remain in the end, will they still be such heroes?