Who’s Trying to Build a New Coalition for Netanyahu? His Disgraced Former Aide

Natan Eshel was forced out of office four years ago for suspected sexual harassment. With Netanyahu's other confidants facing corruption charges, Eshel has been spotted at the residence mediating on Netanyahu’s behalf

File Photo: PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his former aide Natan Eshel, 2012
Emil Salman

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation last week sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a frantic series of meetings with the heads of his government's coalition in an attempt to find a way to preserve his government for another few months.

Netanyahu's efforts come at a time when his small circle of confidants is sparser than ever. It's somewhat funny to remember today that David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and the man recently recommended for indictment by the police, was one of those who put together Lieberman's entry into the Defense Ministry and government just two and a half years ago. In the current political maneuvering, Shimron is no longer in the picture. His brother-in-law and Netanyahu’s special envoy Isaac Molho, who mediated the coalition negotiations between Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni in 2013, is no longer around either.

>> Netanyahu’s ex-chief of staff sexually abused colleague in 'sick and disturbed' manner, testimony alleges 

Yoav Horowitz has been wearing two hats for the past six months: Netanyahu’s chief of staff and the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office. The latter is a post he has held since Eli Groner resigned. The vacuum surrounding Netanyahu is larger than ever. In such a situation, the identity of the figure working over the past few days to negotiate between Netanyahu and his education minister, Naftali Bennett, should come as no surprise. Natan Eshel has been seen in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem's Balfour Street late at night working to find a formula that will keep Netanyahu in office.

Eshel, who is also considered very close to the prime minister’s wife Sara Netanyahu, is involved despite the scandal he's knees deep in when, four years ago working as Netanyahu’s bureau chief, he was forced out under suspicion of sexually harassing a female employee who worked for him in the Prime Minister’s Office. As part of the agreement, he resigned and agreed to never work in public service again.

In practice, Haaretz reported in August that Eshel founded a company to run political campaigns overseas. Political mediation on Netanyahu’s behalf is apparently not considered public service. We can only wonder whether Eshel is doing this as an unpaid volunteer out of a desire to help the country and Netanyahu, or whether he has other interests.

Lie detector tests to prevent leaks

As long as the Knesset has not officially voted on a date to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections, the legislature continues to work normally. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation met Sunday morning as usual. It will be interesting to see how Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deals with the proposed basic law sponsored by MK David Amsalem (Likud); known as the “Gideon Sa’ar Law,” it states that the president is obligated to confer the task of forming a new government after elections on the head of the largest party in the Knesset, rather than giving the President authority to select the leader most likely to form a coalition.

Other bills, which if not for the events of last week would have had good chances of being approved by the Ministerial Committee, are now in serious doubt. These include the bill sponsored by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) intended to prevent leaks from the security cabinet. The bill would require members of the security cabinet to undergo annual lie detector examinations to ensure they have not leaked the information given to them. Another such bill is the so-called “Elor Azaria Law” sponsored by MK Yoav Kish (Likud), which would provide immunity to security forces during operational incidents – immunity that only a special committee could lift.

A third such law, which in normal times would have had a good chance of passing, is the “Law to Prevent Infiltration.” It would limit the ability of illegal foreign workers to send their earnings in Israel back to their families overseas.

The Ministerial Committee will also discuss a proposed law that would encourage parents to vaccinate their children by sending warnings to those parents who refuse to do so and summon them to meetings in which the risks of non-vaccination would be explained. On the same issue, another bill would allow the heads of educational institutions to prevent unvaccinated children from entering the school if an outbreak is suspected.

A bill sponsored by MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) would allow public transportation on Shabbat, and another, among additional bills that are also on the committee’s agenda, would revoke child custody in the case of a parent who is convicted of murdering the child’s other parent.