Monday morning, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, his ministrys director general, Shay Babad, and the budget director, Shaul Meridor, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They presented him and the director general of the Prime Ministers Office, Eli Groner, with a timetable for the passage of the 2019 budget: The intention is to conclude the legislative process by the end of the Knessets winter session, late next March. Ambitious, but possible.
Netanyahu okayed the plan. I need a declaration, the highly experienced Kahlon persisted, whereupon Netanyahu told Likuds Knesset faction that the budget would pass by the designated date – meaning that the government intends to stay in power for its full term. Such a statement isnt exactly a bank guarantee, but its all there is.
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The thing is that, even now, while projecting messages of ostensible stability, the premier is also singing diametrically opposite tunes. Two weeks ago, this column reported that he had told someone who advised him to advance the next election, I want to, but I dont have a majority. And this week, in a private conversation, he mumbled something about an election in the spring of 2018. We dont know if that was uttered as a wish or whether he blurted out a work plan.
A rumor spread among Likud ministers this week that a date has been set for the vote: May 29, 2018, three years after the formation of the present government. Why then? Two main reasons: 1. To expedite the attorney generals decision about whether to indict Netanyahu; and, 2. To exploit the public momentum that should be generated by the celebrations marking Israels 70th anniversary, next April. They will aggrandize the prime ministers image to mythic proportions (Miri Regev, minister of state ceremonies, is on it!) and circumvent all mention of his rivals.
The contradictory, mixed messages are part of the prime ministers strategy: to blur, to anesthetize, to lead his partners up the garden path, and maybe himself, too. The motive for everything he does, overtly or covertly, can be broken down into three parts: investigations, investigations and investigations. They are the reason and the cause for everything. Theres what the eye sees – in the Knesset, for example – and there are the clandestine things going on in the Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem. A few of them were revealed on Thursday on Channel 12s Fact investigative program.
In an interview with anchor Ilana Dayan, Jacob Weinroth, the veteran lawyer who represents the Netanyahus in criminal matters, talked about the family lifestyle: [Netanyahu] sometimes calls me in as a semi-psychiatrist. My task is to calm things, just so to peel away the anxiety and leave the problem in its naked state, without the layers of anxiety. He emerges from meetings with me calm, but five days later it leaps out again. He has the feeling that something is persecuting him, but he cant put his finger on it. The problem is that there are cases in which I cant calm things down; even a psychoanalyst sometimes needs pills and medicines.
Until now wed thought that Sara was the complex one, to put it delicately, in that relationship. Now, along comes Weinroth, whose days may be numbered due to illness, and reveals an anxious prime minister who feels hes being persecuted and needs ongoing emotional support, a shoulder to lean on.
That jaw-dropping part of the Weinroth interview was recorded a year ago, before the affair of the submarines and missile boats erupted, when Cases 1000 and 2000 were in their infancy, under secret investigation, and long before the detention and interrogation of almost all the prime ministers men, all his secret sharers, past and present. Heading that list now is the special envoy, attorney Isaac Molho, who joined his law-firm partner, attorney David Shimron, whos been in and out of the interrogation rooms in the submarines affair. If this was the prime ministers state of mind a year ago, whats going on with him now?
Without those two, Netanyahu would be nothing. Samson shorn of his locks. At present the premier is alone, isolated as never before. Never before – and these are not just mere words – has there been an Israeli prime minister around whom such a wilderness prevails. You can actually conjure up images of tumbleweed skittering between the rooms in the aquarium, as the Prime Ministers Bureau has been dubbed. Even Boaz Stembler, the media adviser who somehow survived for a relatively lengthy period, fled and recently landed the cushy job of head of the Government Advertising Agency.
At the far end of the corridor, behind double doors, sits a person who has lost control. His fate is now being decided in the interrogation rooms of the polices Lahav 433 national fraud unit. His last confidant, his confessor, tells an interviewer who was unforgettably attacked after reporting on what really goes on in the prime minister's residence and bureau, that Netanyahu is unstable.
Off the leash
The thuggish legislative initiatives of the duo of David Bitan and David Amsalem continue to move ahead. The two are Bibis Amstaffs, the parliamentary equivalent of debt collectors, who at the boss behest systematically harass his greatest enemy, the Israel Police – the organization investigating him and almost all his confidants. The twosomes frequent unhinged rants are debauching the political environment. With authority, they are submitting bills and promoting moves that are simply inconceivable, and the sane ministers, who are heartily sick of the two, are forced to defend these abominations in the media half-heartedly, hemming and hawing.
In the most recent, weekly Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu asked the two to lay off the police. The police are the police, he said. We dont occupy ourselves with them. His words werent aimed at MKs Bitan and Amsalem, but at the media. They were intended to project statesmanship, responsibility and maybe a response to Likuds nosedive in the latest polls, but were accompanied by a virtual wink: Im asking you to behave nicely, but you can go on doing your thing.
Indeed, the response wasnt long in coming. Two days later, in the Knesset plenum, the two orchestrated the passage, in a preliminary reading, of the so-called recommendations law. This is a concoction of Amsalem, who is waging a private campaign of revenge against the police for questioning him under caution, twice, on various suspicions during this decade and the previous one. The cases were closed, but Amsalem doesnt forget and he doesnt forgive. His vendetta is two-pronged: to get rid of those who dared detain him, and to try to extricate the prime minister from the political and public morass into which hell be plunged if the summation and conclusions of the police investigations in Cases 1000 and 2000, which are likely to be submitted before the end of the year, are made public.
The legislation with the mafia-like tinge thats roiling the entire judiciary and the police, has been tailored to fit the serving serial suspect, Netanyahu, by a former suspect. Whats so improper about that? Netanyahu, with typical double talk, said he has no interest in having personal laws passed for him. Nice words, but if they are sincere, it means that the two errant MKs are ignoring his unequivocal instructions.
Now Netanyahu insists hes against the latest idea put forward by Amsalem: to raise the prime ministers salary, with funds that come from cutting the salary of senior figures in the public service, notably that of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, who makes 80,000 shekels (about $22,800) a month. In a TV interview, Amsalem complained mightily about that huge salary; in contrast, he said, a policeman whos just starting out takes home a mere 6,000 shekels.
Amsalems campaign to delegitimize the top ranks of the police has achieved notably parodic heights. On Wednesday, he convened the Interior and Environment Committee, which he heads, for a special meeting about the terms of employment of the polices strategic adviser Lior Horev. Projected on a screen in the committee room was a compilation of Horevs witty (or witless) tweets against Likud and, in particular, against Amsalem, Bitan, and MKs Miki Zohar and Nava Boker.
Amsalem read them out with exaggerated emphasis, nodding his head like the self-righteous clergywoman on Saturday Night Live. There is in fact something of a problem with an adviser hired by the police ridiculing MKs, even if he can claim in his defense that he was only speaking the truth. After all, with this group every joke at their expense, no matter how wicked, pales in the face of reality.
But Horev should have restrained himself, in order not to supply Likuds Amsalems with ammunition in their war against the police commissioner who employs him. The problem with Alsheich is that hes incredibly stubborn. He should have given Horev a dressing-down. Hes paying the guy a handsome fee for his services, so let him at least not shoot himself in the foot.
Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) broke a long silence and expressed his opposition to the recommendations law. I wont let the police be emasculated on my watch, he said at meetings in his office. I will not allow the police to be undermined and the forces credibility to be called into question.
It took Erdan a long time to emerge from his shell. He noticed that his Likud colleagues were targeting the organization for which he bears ministerial responsibility, as though he didnt exist. So he reminded them that hes alive. In regard to Horev, Erdan is actually in tune with Amsalem. But when it comes to the recommendations law, he doesnt intend to toe the Balfour Street line. The prime minister will again give him the cold shoulder at cabinet meetings. Well, Erdan is already used to that. But at least hell maintain a modicum of integrity in the face of honest investigators who are working day and night to get to the truth.
Today we can assume with considerable certainty that the scheme to trip up police investigators and prevent them from drawing up their recommendations soon of the Netanyahu cases, and thereby drag out the judicial entire process for another year or two (and then to claim delay of justice or invoke the statute of limitations) wont work. Neither Habayit Hayehudi nor Kulanu will support the retroactive implementation of such a law. Its not they who will be Netanyahus saviors.
The investigations will end, the findings will be summarized up, the public will hear whether an evidentiary infrastructure to try Netanyahu has emerged, or not, and for which offenses. The public will hear what Netanyahu doesnt want us to know.
Smiles and laughs
Likud will not have a government without Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party, no matter how many seats they win in the elections. Labor leader Avi Gabbay is not an option for Kahlon; MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) is.
Nevertheless, Kahlon of all people has lately become a target for Likud barbs. Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis slammed him at a political gathering. An extreme-left policy, no less, he termed the finance ministers approach to economic issues. Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Haim Katz whined about him at a meeting of Likud ministers: Everything thats totally Kahlons doing passes, and everything thats not doesnt get passed. The same Katz this week asked the treasury to make available 50 million shekels for heating for needy old people. Why only 50? Kahlon wondered. Take 109 million.
Last week, in London, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who accompanied the Netanyahus on their trip there, was heard telling an interlocutor: You think Likud is running the country? Wrong. Kahlon is running the country.
The complaints continue to pile up. It bothers them that Kahlon doesnt accede to all their requests. Regev wants money for culture and sports in outlying areas? Shell get it, in spades. Shes asking for 200 million shekels ($57 million) for next years Independence Day celebrations? Shell go to bed hungry if necessary. Whatever works with his worldview, Kahlon pays for. What doesnt, he rejects. Likud has a central committee, primaries, people who have to butter up others – I dont, he says in private conversations.
Now theyre angrier than ever at him. Gritting their teeth. Hes put a stop sign on road taken by Amsalem and Bitan: There will be no retroactive or personal legislation. Kulanu wont lend a hand to that. Bitan is furious, sometimes he puffs himself up like a blowfish in meetings of coalition-party heads, threatens that the government will be dismantled. Kahlon laughs in his face. This week, in the presence of the prime minister, he told Bitan, the coalition whip: This school, in which youre now enrolled as a pupil? Go to the corridor and youll see photographs of former principals on the walls. Im one of the principals. I was there long before you. I invented some of the tricks youre now trying to use on me.
Bitan said nothing. Netanyahu smiled. Kahlon laughed.
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