Bibi’s Own Defeat

Uzi Baram
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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event on September 29, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Uzi Baram

It wouldn’t be original for me to say that Benjamin Netanyahu is capable of every trick to shore up his battered self in the run-up to a decision on whether he should be indicted. This sophisticated politician is making the assumption that those whom he is facing are mediocre players squabbling among themselves, so he can set the plans for battle.

Following the September election, he created a bloc of 55 supportive Knesset members to head off the establishment of an alternative coalition government. Although he swore loyalty to them, it’s doubtful that the other 54 members of his bloc knew he plans on launching a bid for a third election, but Netanyahu also knows he cannot be portrayed as being the one responsible for bringing about yet another round.

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President Reuven Rivlin purportedly threw him a lifeline with a novel interpretation – related to politics, not medicine – of what it means to be incapacitated. Rivlin was aware that most Israelis don’t want another election so he tried to extract a hybrid “solution” from the sinking ship.

Netanyahu embraced the suggestion because his rivals ruled it out and, without a hint of embarrassment, the prime minister also began praising the president. This is the same president whose election Netanyahu went all out to prevent. And following his failure to form a government after the April election, Netanyahu refused to return the mandate that would have allowed Rivlin to tap someone else to form a government. The prime minister was concerned that the president would hand the mandate to “the leftists,” while cabinet ministers and Knesset members ridiculed every liberal remark that Rivlin made.

Netanyahu wants a third round of elections not because it would benefit his party and himself, but because he has nothing to lose. He knows that even if the center-left parties win another few Knesset seats, they still won’t be able to form a government without his Likud party. He is therefore prepared to gamble on a relative failure as long as the extension of time improves his prospects of facing indictment while he is still prime minister. That is the only reason for the long-running trick that he is forcing upon his party and upon the voters.

I must say that in all my political life, I never witnessed Knesset members falling in line behind a leader suspected of criminal wrongdoing. They know that Netanyahu has no interest in them, in their abilities or their aspirations to make a political mark of their own, but any threat they might make could lead to new Likud primaries that would only reelect the party’s wounded king as to the leadership. It’s possible that another election is actually needed to make Likud Knesset members come to their senses and free themselves of their bonds with Netanyahu, which are akin to those between a revered ultra-Orthodox rabbi and his followers.

But until it happens, Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party needs to launch a public campaign that unmasks Netanyahu’s deceit. A third round of elections, which is fast approaching, is a thing of Netanyahu’s creation and runs counter to a rational approach to forming a unity government.

That Netanyahu has embraced his right-wing bloc of 55 Knesset members is preventing Kahol Lavan, which won one more seat than Likud, from conducting direct negotiations with Likud because it is only natural that Kahol Lavan would look for coalition partners among that 55-member bloc.

By every right, Gantz earned that privilege after leading a new party to victory in an election campaign held in an atmosphere of incitement. A unity government with Kahol Lavan and Likud is not a good solution, but it is the only solution to the current complex political situation. It’s reasonable to assume that in any agreement on a rotation of prime ministers, Gantz would be prime minister first, followed by a Likud representative, as was agreed upon between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir in 1984.

The cards favor Gantz, as long as he doesn’t permit his rival to attempt the politically impossible, because whoever attempts to defeat his opponent will ultimately lead to his own defeat.