Analysis

Coalition Crisis Averted: Netanyahu Felt the Heat, and Was Quick to Put Out the Flames

Likud has been losing seats in the polls since last month. Now it’s going head to head with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, more than enough reason for Netanyahu to end the crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Interior Minister Arye Dery and Health Minister Yakov Litzman announcing the resolution of a recent coalition crisis on November 23, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The poor man’s “House of Cards”-style conspiracy theory attributing to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman a fake crisis that would lead to early elections collapsed Sunday as quickly as it was built.

The danger to the coalition would have been clear and present were it not for the fact that all of the parties involved, above all the prime minister, had an obvious interest in keeping the crisis from snowballing. Once the boundaries of the problem were set, expectations synchronized and interests merged, political creativity came into play.

The solution that was found was quick, if rather inelegant. The status quo would be preserved. What was open will not close. Soccer will be played. The labor minister “will take Jewish tradition into account” when issuing work permits for Shabbat and the High Court of Justice ruling that prohibits a deputy cabinet minister from serving as a full minister will be circumvented by a coalition that wants to survive — including Kulanu, the supreme defenders of the Supreme Court. What’s a slap in the face of the court compared to the supreme value of staying in power?

Litzman will return to the Health Ministry, albeit with a downgrade. Vital Shabbat work on the railway will continue but he can claim he bears no ministerial responsibility since he is only a deputy minister. In Katrielevka, the favorite shtetl from the stories of Shalom Aleichem, they were celebrating up in heaven. Their tradition is not extinct.

If Netanyahu is interested in forcing elections before the attorney general makes a decision on the cases in which he is a suspect, he will have to find different grounds sometime in the future. Meanwhile, based on testimony from all the parties, he was really going out of his mind trying to control the flames that were starting to singe his regime.

The poll by Prof. Camil Fuchs that was released by Channel 10 on Sunday night shows why. Likud has been losing seats in the polls since the start of the Knesset’s winter session last month. Now it’s going head to head with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, with 24 Knesset seats each.

Likud’s dive, which corresponds to the turbid flood of aggressive legislative initiatives from the house of David Amsalem and David Bitan, continues in light of the ultra-Orthodox obsession with imposing a medieval lifestyle on Israel. But it’s not just that. The frenzy of Amsalem and Bitan, the attack on President Reuven Rivlin, the ugly booting out of Benny Begin from the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, the monumental interview by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely — all these were reflected in the latest poll. It was a bad week for Likud; the public, it turns out, objects to this behavior, to say the least.

When this is what the government looks like, all the other side has to do is the opposite. The seat are returning to Lapid for three main reasons: He hits Netanyahu head-on over his investigations and repeatedly slams Amsalem and Bitan, correctly calling them “messengers.” He is also perceived as someone who will stand up to religious coercion, after stuttering a bit on the subject. Indirectly, he is also benefiting from the blurred-identity strategy of Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay, who has lost some control recently and has fallen into a tailspin.

The end of the railway crisis generated a huge sigh of relief from all the coalition partners, who see no point in elections that at best will return them to exactly the same position. The loudest sigh of relief came from Shas, which is continuing to teeter at the verge of the oblivion posed by the electoral threshold of four Knesset seats.