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Netanyahu Offers Olive Branch to Prevent Election. But It's Dipped in Poison

Prime minister's coalition partners, all too familiar with his tactics, wary after he says he supports compromise to avoid election but provides no details

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Benjamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The olive branch that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended to his Kahol Lavan rivals was, as usual, dipped in poison. The left side of his mouth said some gems: “work together,” “unity” and “it’s not the time for an election.” The right side of his mouth spewed lies, distortions and political spin, which once again filled precious airtime – mainly to aggrandize himself and to belittle his partners. It was a passive-aggressive performance par excellence. The so-called Netanyahu Doctrine, as he called his own vision of peace, has a darker side. Bibi’s Shady Plan: peace with the Emirates, and perhaps with other countries – yes; a cease-fire with Kahol Lavan – anything but that.

But don't stow away the campaign playbook just yet. It seems we were informed of the end of the crisis when the prime minister announced his agreement to Zvi Hauser’s proposal to postpone the deadline for passing a state budget by 120 days. However, the devil is in the details, which weren’t finalized. At any given moment on Monday, Netanyahu could convene another press conference and accuse his partners of piling up obstacles despite his noble and responsible concession. No one matches his mastery of propaganda.

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Because we are talking about a man and a party for whom deceit and misrepresentation are bread and butter, as has been proven to us over the previous 100 days, we cannot rule out this possibility. Before Netanyahu's appearance, we heard that Likud was refusing to approve the government regulation anchoring the principle of equality in law – a flagrant violation of the coalition agreement, and to freeze all senior appointments, including that of the state prosecutor, which is in the hands of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, but not that of the police commissioner, which is the responsibility of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

Regarding Nissenkorn, despite the fact that it was proven that the claim of a closed criminal case against him was false, Netanyahu played it up, completely ignoring reality. Some admire this trait in him, but any reasonable person, whether on the right or the left, must ask themselves how ethically low this leader is capable of going.

The Kahol Lavan leaders, who had no clue what Netanyahu was going to say, as is the norm with their senior partner (a trivial matter compared to the exclusion of the defense and foreign ministers from knowledge of the normalization agreement with the UAE), were in no rush to decommission their heavy weapons. They have gotten to know their client. They won’t believe him until after final vote on the bill pushing back the deadline.

If, after all, the bill is approved, the next exit point for an election under conditions convenient for Netanyahu will be pushed back to late December. Taking that exit would mean an election in April, six months before Netanyahu is to pass the reins of power to Benny Gantz. The significance of the delay would be that that the election campaign would coincide with Netanyahu’s corruption trial. The witnesses in the most serious case against him, the one involving the Walla news website of telecom company Bezeq – state witnesses Nir Hefetz and Shlomo Filber, as well as former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshu – are due to testify then in the Jerusalem District Court.

It’s a most significant factor, whose potential repercussions are hard to evaluate. Netanyahu, meanwhile, will demand postponing his hearing until after the election. If he is refused, he will certainly wage a campaign against the judges for “denying him a just trial.” Legal experts think that a panel of judges wouldn’t grant him such a request. We’ll see.

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