One thing has been troubling me since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s TV interviews last Saturday, when he shared with the public the agreement that seemed to be developing between Likud and Kahol Lavan – Netanyahu would remain in his position for a year and a half and then Benny Ganz would replace him for the same amount of time: Why were they talking about three years all of a sudden? When did three become the new four?
Perhaps the mystery has been solved. I, too, followed with concern the reports of the hijacking by Yuli Edelstein, in which he held his 121 fellow Knesset members hostage and agreed to release them only in return for “unity.”
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 71: A tale of two crises: Coronavirus vs. Constitution
In the midst of my agitation over Edelstein’s awakening, a family member called, stunned by how Netanyahu the magician had broken the record heights of Machiavellianism. “Did you see what he did to Edelstein?” he shouted into my ear. “He’s a genius. What an elimination!” And even before I could slip in a question, he explained: “Bibi threw Edelstein out of the race for the presidency. Burned him.”
At that moment I heard reality clicking into place. Albert Einstein once said that coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. Oh no: A coincidence is Netanyahu’s way of remaining in power. Netanyahu suggested rotating in another year and a half. He promised to evacuate his place on a date that would be agreed upon in 2021 and even “fell into the trap” anchorwoman Dana Weiss laid for him on TV, stating for posterity in front of the camera: “I will leave exactly on the date we said – there won’t be any tricks or shticks.” What a coincidence, a real fluke, that just so happens to be exactly when President Reuven Rivlin’s term in office ends.
Of all the disasters that could have happened as a result of the crisis Edelstein created, of all the calls to revot by Netanyahu’s associates, of all the hoopla, what are we left with in the end? No putsch and no nothing, merely that Edelstein resigned. In effect, the last election achieved the elimination of the three candidates for the presidency in a single blow. While Netanyahu wiped out Edelstein’s reputation as a fair-minded politician, Orli Levi-Abekasis operated as a secret agent and killed both the chances of her father and her father figure: retired politician David Levy and Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz.
For the first time, we heard a commitment from Netanyahu to leave the official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. How so? He simply agreed to move into the president’s residence. The talk of rotation always brought the mandate to form a government back to him – an obvious move for someone who wants another term in office. If Netanyahu proceeds to the presidency, they can pass the law imposing a term limit on prime ministers for all he cares.
Netanyahu learned from his friend Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, when he hit the limit after two terms as president, appointed himself prime minister until he competed legislation that enabled him to run for president again. And not long ago, his government “resigned” in order to allow him to institute a reform and come back as chairman of the state council or God knows what, and continue to rule for the rest of his life.
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If Putin can do it, why can’t he? Under cover of the coronavirus he will suspend the legal proceedings against him in return for “leaving political life” (and who could be better than his new defense attorney Ram Caspi for cooking up a legal shakshuka). But when the door shuts on political life, the door to the presidential life will open – a status that will swathe him in sweeping immunity.
If Rivlin has tried to resolve political crises, Netanyahu will find a way to keep Israel in an eternal political crisis. Thus Ganz will become the state’s deputy CEO for operations (a role that is cut to his real measure, as became evident on Friday) and into the political vacuum that he himself created, Netanyahu will remake himself as the head of state. Without forgetting, of course, to wink at Edelstein from the stage of the 80th Independence Day celebrations.