Just as he’s awaiting a trial that’s likely to end in jail time, after two failures to form a government and with an ongoing record of riding roughshod over the law enforcement system, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is about to receive sweeping legitimacy and head the largest governing coalition of his multiple terms of office.
The word “magician” is too weak to describe this stunning achievement, which isn’t solely a result of his political abilities. His magic, as in countless other occasions during his long career, was mixed with something else – destiny. Cosmic wizardry.
The coronavirus pandemic arrived with inconceivably perfect timing from his perspective, a moment before the bloc elected by his opponents – which originally numbered 62 Knesset members – began pushing through laws that would have prevented him from running for prime minister. And of course, every magician needs an audience for his sleights of hand; in this case, the people who negotiated with him were perfect for the role – naïve political children, soon to be miserable ones too.
As of now, Netanyahu hasn’t lost his grip on the law enforcement system (which was ostensibly the main reason for Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party to join his government). Of its four strongholds, Netanyahu’s Likud party will retain three – the Public Security Ministry, the Knesset speaker and the chairmanship of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Granted, the Justice Ministry will be given to his new partners. But it will be run “by consensus,” meaning it will be subject to a veto.
Likud's Gilad Erdan will apparently be asked to vacate the Public Security Ministry in favor of Likud's Miri Regev, after Kahol Lavan agreed to her appointment. She will therefore have the power to appoint the next police commissioner. And she’ll make sure to appoint someone who shares her values, will obey her dictates and may also sic his investigators on the prime minister’s political rivals (who will soon be his partners).
On Sunday, the penny dropped. A few months ago, Erdan wanted to appoint a new police commissioner. Regev gave him a friendly hint to drop the matter, because it would go nowhere. This was evidently an order from the prime minister’s residence, because no pandemic will cause the next Netanyahu investigations in the pipeline to be forgotten – probes of his stock purchases and of the espionage against Gantz during the campaign.
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And if she doesn’t succeed in her mission (which is along the lines of “What’s the police worth if we can’t control it?”), she’ll do what she did at the Culture Ministry – troll and curse the system for which she’s responsible until everyone gets nauseous and dizzy, as usual.
Netanyahu will fight for Yuli Edelstein to the last drop of blood – Edelstein’s blood, that is. Gantz didn’t have to put his foot down during the nighttime meeting at the prime minister’s residence for his interlocutor to “accede” to his demand that the former Knesset speaker not return to his job. As I wrote a week and a half ago, the plan was to replace Edelstein with Likud's Yariv Levin or (if Levin is vetoed) Yuval Steinitz.
If it’s Levin, the legislature will be headed by someone resembling the Edelstein of the past two weeks, but on steroids, full of hatred and contempt for the legal system. Admittedly, not returning Edelstein to the job sends an educational message, since he violated a High Court of Justice ruling. But whereas for him, this was a single embarrassing episode, with Levin – who is both a radical and a Netanyahu loyalist – it will be an endless binge of spitting in the face of the Supreme Court, the attorney general and anything that smells of “the rule of law.”
Leaving Yaakov Litzman at the helm of the Health Ministry is like giving a citation of merit to an officer who has failed throughout his service precisely during his most decisive battle, in which his poor performance is on even greater display. Litzman surely understands that when the crisis fades he will be denounced as being responsible for the system’s awful failure. But the order of the Gerrer Rebbe is stronger: There is no other ministry in which the minister can take personal care of his voters – to get them a private room, to speed up an MRI test, to obtain a sought-after treatment, or anything else that people need when they’re sick.
This government will have between 32 to 34 ministers, half of them totally superfluous. No one has any expectations from Netanyahu, but how can Gantz and Ashkenazi let this happen? Ariel Sharon, who invented this method, had a great expression: “You have to smear them with honey.” That’s how honey is – sweet, and sticks one to his chair. Now what remains is to see who will be kicked out of their ministerial bureaus. Netanyahu’s proven tendency since 2009 is to take care of his partners – first the Haredim, and after that the party that switched sides. Likud people will once again be left behind, an experience they’re familiar with.
First it was Gadi Yavarkan, the deserter from Kahol Lavan, who knocked out Avraham Nagosa, the Likudnik who was loyal to Netanyahu. Then came Pnina Tamano-Shata and swallowed Yavarkan – and she’s the one who’ll be named absorption minister in the government mistakenly dubbed the “unity government.” What’s been happening among the elected officials of Ethiopian origin has been a domino effect.
If there was an Israel Prize for self-righteousness and hypocrisy, the leading candidates would undoubtedly be Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser. They entered politics as part of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem Party in order to depose Netanyahu. Ya’alon kept his word. But the moment they could smell some possible authority, they turned their backs on him, stabbed him, and skipped over to the coalition. Lacking even a modicum of self-awareness, they dubbed their small faction Derech Eretz. If we weren’t talking about two human helium balloons, we might suspect this was meant to be funny, but no, they’re serious. “We hope this step will lead to the healing of wounds in Israeli society,” Hendel tweeted. Here’s a more fitting name for their faction: Polite Pickpockets.