Analysis

Even Netanyahu Knows It’s Over

Netanyahu may win the new election but it will be too late to push through the High Court override and the immunity from prosecution: Who will sign a coalition agreement with someone on his political deathbed?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits at the plenum at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 30, 2019.
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

On Thursday, May 30, the countdown to the end of the Netanyahu era began.

On the very same day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was supposed to look over five signed and sealed coalition agreements with his government allies. He was supposed to call up the Knesset members from his Likud party and divide up the remnants his coalition partners left behind after they finished extorting positions and promises from him.

Next Monday, the Knesset was supposed to have convened for a festive session and voted its support for the fifth Netanyahu government, his fourth consecutive government since May 2009. The next day, without any delay or pause, a marathon of two-headed personal-legal legislation was to begin: One part was meant to rescue the suspect from justice, and the other was meant to deal a lethal blow to the Israeli legal system, its independence and power.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before voting in the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Sebastian Scheiner,AP

But it won’t happen now. Not here. Israel is going to the polls again on September 17. This is the insanity, Italy at its worst. A politician entangled up to his neck in crimes, with a harsh indictment hanging over his head – is dragging an entire country to the polls and no one in his party and no one in his planned coalition has put his foot down and told him: Stop! It’s over! Leave us alone!

Netanyahu realized on Wednesday night, and he showed it clearly, that the story was over. Elections on September 17, a new government – assuming that he wins and puts together 61 MKs without Avigdor Lieberman, this time – at the beginning of November. This will be a month after his pre-indictment hearing. The Supreme Court override law will not have passed, nor will he have immunity from prosecution: There will be an indictment and Netanyahu will be history. It is doubtful that any of his “natural partners” will agree to sign a coalition agreement with someone on their political deathbed.

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One of the most despicable days in the history of the Israeli parliament came to an end late at night on Wednesday when the only 30-day-old 21st Knesset – it is superfluous to say the shortest in Israel’s history – met to vote to dissolve itself. Netanyahu, the man who on the night of the last election on April 9, arrogantly and drunken with power celebrated his “incredible victory,” entered the Knesset chamber defeated and humiliated.

So far, Israel has had two candidates for prime minister who failed in their task to form a government after being given the task by the president: Shimon Peres in 1990, after the political “dirty trick” of breaking up the second unity government; and Tzipi Livni in 2008, after the resignation of Ehud Olmert. Peres did not have 65 MKs in his bloc, and Livni was a political rookie who had never put together a government coalition.

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Netanyahu is the third prime ministerial candidate to earn this dubious honor. His failure is the most stinging of the three: It came immediately after the election, after a clear victory for the right and with political experience that no one else in the Knesset had. What is the right-wing bloc now? A big question mark is hanging over this question. Avigdor Lieberman, whose insistence on the approval of the passage of the new Draft Law – which no one understands in detail, has driven the political system crazy – can no longer be considered an integral part of the bloc. Not as long as Netanyahu is its leader.

This is Netanyahu’s second total defeat this decade, after his efforts to prevent the election of Reuven Rivlin as president five years ago ended in a rout. To add to the rage and humiliation, Netanyahu spent the tensest hours on Wednesday in a pitiable, sweaty, humiliating and ineffectual pursuit after potential deserters on the left. Both individuals and groups.

Our magician tried to pull a rabbit from up his sleeve, but what came out was a dead parakeet – and then another one and another. What didn’t he offer? The defense and finance portfolios to Tal Rousso and Avi Gabbay of Labor – who fell into the trap and said he would “consider” the offer – the Communications Ministry to Labor and the Justice Ministry to Shelly Yacimovich. He promised to give up on the Supreme Court override bill and the immunity law, which were intended to be his escape tunnel from a trial, and possibly prison. Yes, he was even willing to sacrifice the things most precious to him, the original reason he moved up the election, just so he could stay in office and hope that even after the indictment he could continue on in office – as the law allows.

Wednesday’s disgrace only shows how much of a failure the coalition negotiations were. He needed to have made such arrangements earlier, at his leisure, in secret. After all, he suspected Lieberman form the very beginning, so why didn’t he make sure he had an alternative? That is the price of his arrogance.