It Took Litzman's 'Shtetl Smarts' to Solve Bennett and Netanyahu's Crisis

Amazingly enough, the prime minister's envoys didn’t hear a definite 'no' from Herzog on the possibility of joining the coalition. The thing with Netanyahu is that his desire for unity is generally retroactive.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, MK Naftali Bennett and MK Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset, May 14, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

The hero of the day, Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman, sounded blasé and bored when he described on Monday morning his efforts to end the crisis between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhahu and Minister Naftali Bennett on reforming the security cabinet. “I proposed a compromise, added something here and there and that’s it,” he said. “It would have been funny if we had gone to elections over it.”

It would have been funny, no doubt. Bennett warned that if the ignorant and clueless security cabinet members would not immediately be granted a brigadier general to brief them, soldiers and civilians would die in vain, just as in Operation Protective Edge and in the Second Lebanon War.

Now, in accordance with Litzman’s proposal, the acting head of the National Security Council will work overtime ahead of security cabinet meetings until the conflict will be fully resolved. Such a simple solution conceived by a wise Jewish man with "shtetl smarts" was needed to get the two rivals to climb down from the tree, or, to phrase it less politely, to get rid of the two cats meowing in our backyard the last few nights and driving us crazy.

It should be noted that Netanyahu was the one to flee first, but this is obvious: Bennett brought him to his knees. He gave him a lesson in leadership.

Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu after signing their coalition agreement, Jerusalem, May 25, 2016.
Emil Salman

There’s no reason why Netanyahu and Bennett couldn’t have reached a speedy agreement. True, Bennett implied that Netanyahu had caused unnecessary deaths of civilians and soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, and accused him of lengthening the war by the reckless conduct of the security cabinet he headed. So what? That’s no worse than the things Avigdor Lieberman has said about Netanyahu this past year.

Danny Danon, whose criticism of Netanyahu as deputy defense minister didn’t even come close to that of Bennett, was fired right away. Since the fate of the coalition wasn’t up to him, Bibi felt like a hero. But dismissing the chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party and losing the Likud’s sister right-wing party wasn’t an option.

Bennett’s demand to improve the quality of the security cabinet’s work was justified, and even if he hadn’t raised it until now, it’s good that he did. Bennett is rightfully concerned about Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister. Two years ago, he saw how it goes when there’s a war on. The prime minister and defense minister, after consulting with the chief of general staff, place a fait accompli before the security cabinet. The ministers have no tools, no information and no clue as to how these decisions are made. Bennett’s demand that a military secretary be appointed for the security cabinet to prepare them for these meetings was meant to give him and his colleagues a security net that could prevent future problems.

Ironically, Bennett, who during the war in Gaza didn’t exactly side with the moderate members of the security cabinet, is now seeking a preventive solution in the form of a military secretary. This proves that everything in life is relative. It’s probably not easy for him to see Lieberman, with his party’s five Knesset seats, being sworn in on Monday, rather than him. This is understandable.

As Litzman, as well as Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, were engaged in mediation efforts, envoys on Netanyahu’s behalf were hovering around Zionist Union leader Isaac “that door is shut!” Herzog. Amazingly enough, they didn’t hear him utter a definite “no” to the possibility of joining the coalition should the crisis with Bennett’s party escalate to the point of no return.

The thing with Netanyahu is that his desire for unity is generally retroactive; if he had established a government with Zionist Union after last year’s elections, Bennett would have been pushed to the margins, if he would have joined it at all. And if Netanyahu had been prepared to put the promises he made to Herzog only a couple of weeks ago in writing, then Foreign Minister Herzog could have already been flying all over the world, vigorously rehabilitating the boss’ reputation.

Now Herzog is on the boards. His main ally, Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn, abandoned him at the crucial moment and left him bleeding on the battlefield. His ability to bring his party into the government has suffered a blow. And in any case, in a scenario where Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi leaves the government, the coalition loses its majority. Why in the world should the opposition step up to save it?

The election scenario thrown around here and there by the media was pure fiction. Netanyahu wouldn’t have dared to drag the country into new elections for the second time in less than 18 months, especially after his party won a respectable 30 seats. New elections may sow doubts among voters regarding his ability to lead.

To this we must add Netanyahu’s domestic problems. One needn’t envy what awaits him when he comes home to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. The police recommendations to prosecute Sara Netanyahu in three different cases of alleged fraud — so similar to the allegations against them 15 years ago — makes one wonder if either of the Netanyahus ever learn anything.

Back then they narrowly escaped prosecution. This may be the result this time too — or maybe not. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is not Yehuda Weinstein, at least one can only hope.