In April 2019, five days before the first of three Knesset elections, Yair Lapid was interviewed by the Ynet website. “Being that the two of you speak with Likud members, you know that many people there say that if he doesn’t succeed, we’ll be the first to replace him,” Lapid told the interviewers, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid claimed for a year and a half that the rebellion was coming any day. And he wasn’t the only one.
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Avigdor Lieberman said in November: “I’m sure that if Likud doesn’t get 61 recommendations [in the 120-seat Knesset] after the first round of meetings with the president, Likud will push him out the next day.” Well, Netanyahu didn’t get 61 recommendations, and he wasn’t pushed out.
Political analysts, including me, have often been wrong over the past year and a half. But no commentators have gotten their predictions as wrong as Lapid and Lieberman. It would have been better to flip a coin.
Lapid believed that the ultra-Orthodox parties would eventually join a governing coalition led by Benny Gantz, once it turned out that Netanyahu didn’t have a government. Just days before Kahol Lavan broke up in late March, Gantz was still writing on Facebook that “Netanyahu doesn’t want a unity government because he knows he can’t get the French law [blocking his corruption indictment] passed or any immunity laws … so he’s pushing for a fourth election.”
Before Kahol Lavan split, Lapid forged the party’s strategy based on these projections, even though they didn’t have a chance of being realized. During 18 months of discrete talks with Likud legislators and ministers, I never heard anyone talk about ousting Netanyahu.
At a certain stage, Lapid became inflexible and arrogant, refusing to accept reality. After Netanyahu’s generous offer during the second round – he would be prime minister for only six months – Lapid said this was just one of Bibi’s games. After this offer during the third round, he claimed once again that Netanyahu wasn’t serious.
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Just three weeks ago, Lieberman wrote on Facebook: “As someone who knows Netanyahu better than anybody, I figure he won’t sign a coalition agreement with Gantz today or tomorrow.” In interview after interview, Lieberman claimed that Netanyahu was simply preparing an alibi and was pushing for a fourth election, the French law and a law that would let the Knesset override the High Court of Justice.
Now, with Netanyahu signing a coalition deal and the swearing-in of the government due this week, Lapid and Lieberman say there is no chance that Netanyahu will follow through on the rotation. “Your chance of a rotation with Netanyahu is better than Gantz’s,” Lieberman told Ben Caspit of the daily Maariv. Lapid said there’s no scenario where Netanyahu will say to Sara in a year and a half, “Let’s go, dear, we’re packing.” (And that really is hard to imagine.)
Netanyahu’s promises are as risky as junk bonds. Moreover, politicians who fight over principles are preferable to politicians who make forecasts, so let’s take Lieberman out of the equation for a moment, because principles aren’t exactly his thing. Agreed, Lapid is paying a dear political price for fighting for the principle of not joining a government with Netanyahu – the same Lapid who trampled on his pledge not to form a government supported by the Arab party Balad.
But at a certain stage this opposition spun out of control. Yesh Atid’s behavior since the breakup of Kahol Lavan has crossed every line, and it’s playing into Netanyahu’s hands. Lapid says he’ll help Netanyahu repeal the laws promising Gantz’s term.
There is no political rationale in this. If the rotation isn’t carried out, Gantz isn’t expected to be a candidate for prime minister any longer. If the rotation takes place, there is no reason Lapid won’t join Gantz in recreating a governing alternative. In both cases, this ugly attack isn’t productive. On the contrary, it only strengthens Netanyahu.