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In Deal With Far-right Leader, Netanyahu Edges Closer to Reelection. Next Up: The Kahanists

Zehut chairman has a couple of weeks to enjoy the legitimacy Netanyahu just gave him, but after the election he and his cannabis reform will be at the prime minister's mercy

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Moshe Feiglin and Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by Zehut candidate Ronit Dror and Likud MK Sharren Haskel.
Moshe Feiglin and Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by Zehut candidate Ronit Dror and Likud MK Sharren Haskel.
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

With gushing words and without even blushing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described on Thursday the magnificent relationship he and the leader of the far-right Zehut party managed to nurture in a single conversation. With Netanyahu, friendship is always a result of political pressure or constraint. When those disappear, so does the "friendship," and all promises and agreements fade away. (Latest election polls – click here)

All 120 Knesset seats could be filled with people whom Netanyahu has promised something in the last a quarter of a century. The beautiful— or disturbing — thing with Netanyahu is that when he commits, shakes hands and looks his ally straight in the eye, behind closed doors or in public, he genuinely believes himself.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 36Credit: Haaretz

>> Latest polls: Israel election 2019The mistake that strategic voters make | Opinion

Zehut Chairman Moshe Feiglin demanded that his agreement with Netanyahu be presented to the public, as an insurance policy. Feiglin should call Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who left Likud and to whom Netanyahu promised the position of Israel Lands Administration chief in a joint press conference on the eve of the 2013 election.

"I see you as a minister in the government," Netanyahu told Feiglin in a joint press conference. But the prime minister didn't say, "I pledge to make you a minister." Should Netanyahu break his promise, he could quote the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who said: "Things you see from here, you don't see from there."

Netanyahu can be very pleased. Netanyahu paid with a post-dated check, and got his merchandise in cash, and that's an accomplishment. Zehut is worth, on its best day, some two Knesset seats. If half of its voters follow Feiglin to Likud, the extra Knesset seat Feiglin would bring with him could be the difference between a fifth term for Netanyahu or his defeat.

Netanyahu acts methodically. He's like someone clearing a minefield. Where there's a problem, he will do anything to resolve it. Feiglin was a serious obstacle who was in Netanyahu's way – and he was pushed out of the way. Next in line are the Kahanist members of the Otzma Yehudit party. Negotiating with them would be more complicated for Netanyahu, because even our prime minister, who has lost all his brakes and morals over the past few years, wouldn't think of offering Itamar Ben-Gvir a ministerial post. Or would he?

Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit at the party's campaign launch in Jerusalem, July 6, 2019. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The cannabis reform that Netanyahu promised Feglin in exchange for dropping out of the election is good news for hundreds of patients who are experiencing excruciating pain. But Feiglin, even if appointed "cannabis minister," wouldn't have any leverage to carry it out. He has no choice but to count on Netanyahu's goodwill – if he is elected prime minister and manages to form the next government –and on his coalition partners' willingness to support it.

The story here isn't what Feiglin was promised, but rather the quid pro quo. "Follow the money," Deep Throat told Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal. The law explicitly says that monetary compensation (through payment of past debts, for example) in exchange for an appointment or an agreement to drop out of an election is bribery.

A different kind of deal was made here: One that involves not covering debts, but rather taking part in financing the current campaign (which has only two and a half weeks remaining). It smells and requires a probe by the attorney general.

During Netanyahu's second term, in 2009-2013, when he still exhibited signs of statesmanship and responsibility, Feiglin – then a Likud lawmaker – was at the head of his list of targets. Netanyahu fought him daily. He forbade his party colleagues to participate in the Manhigut Yehudit movement headed by Feiglin and threatened heavy penalties for anyone who did so. When Feiglin was reelected to Likud's Knesset slate, the party's chairman kicked him out in what was a sketchy legal move.

On Thursday, Netanyahu gave Feiglin the legitimacy he has sought ever since he entered politics. He is no longer an outcast and is now an ally, a partner in values and vision and whatnot. He has two and a half weeks to enjoy the sunlight and glory that he has won. After September 17, the game will begin anew.

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