For months, Naftali Bennett tried to persuade listeners that his priorities had changed completely – no more right versus left, no more of those shopworn disputes that will never be settled, no more hackneyed arguments that will never end in agreement. “If it’s not about jobs then it’s not interesting,” was his slogan.
Every speech of his during the election campaign opened with a personal anecdote: I met Miriam, I spoke with David, I heard about her/his difficulties, the business that collapsed, the shattered dreams, the fear of the future.
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Tuesday, in his first speech since the election, nothing recalled that caring, compassionate Bennett whose heart went out to the suffering people of Zion. He resumed digging in the right’s backyard – “a government that leans right,” “a stable, national, rightist government,” “a government that represents the national [that is, right-wing] consensus,” and so on and so forth.
It’s strange. He spent a week in the desert. He surely met hikers there who poured their troubles into his ears. But he didn’t see it fit to quote any of them. Perhaps this is what he heard from them – nothing but the right and the right and the right?
Then he asked politicians “from both the right and the left to stop their electioneering.” He ought to practice what he preaches. He’s certainly switched gears.
Aside from the absence of any personal angle, his speech also lacked a clear statement about where he’s heading. He’s continuing to dance between the blocs – with a “rightward tilt” – and negotiate simultaneously with his two potential partners, Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid.
If Netanyahu cannot secure a parliamentary majority with the addition of the seven Knesset seats of Bennett’s Yamina party, Bennett will take his wares to Lapid’s booth. But obviously Bennett will be weaker then, with minimal bargaining power.
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Netanyahu’s allotted time to form a government began at noon Tuesday, when President Reuven Rivlin announced that he was giving Netanyahu the mandate. Rivlin’s suit was gray, his tie was gray, his face was gray. And his stomach revolted.
Giving the mandate to a man that is standing trial for bribery and fraud wrenched the president’s heart. For months, he agonized over how to act if this moment arrived. In the end, as always with him, statesmanship won out over personal considerations.
This is the fourth time that Rivlin has asked Netanyahu to form a government. Each time was more bitter for him than the last. Each time since 2015 was preceded by an ugly campaign of smears and incitement against him by Netanyahu’s circle. Only the president, after his term ends, will be able to describe the loathing he felt for the man who treated him so basely from the day he entered the President’s Residence.
On Tuesday, knowing that he’ll never have to do this again – his seven-year term ends July 5 – Rivlin allowed himself to violate the rules of the ceremony. He couldn’t bear the thought that the man who inspires and directs the slanderers and abusers would stand beside him in the President’s Residence and pay lip service to unity. Instead, he delivered the mandate via an employee.
He also skipped the traditional joint photo in the Knesset with party leaders and the symbols of the state. Netanyahu, in his eyes, symbolizes something else entirely.