Yuli Edelstein did it, big-time. He said out loud what other senior Likud politicians have been whispering to journalists “not for attribution” – that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no chance of being able to form a government even after the next election. Edelstein broke the fear barrier. He demonstrated courage, distinguishing himself from the two cowards, Nir Barkat and Herod – also known as Yisrael Katz – who may be pretenders to the throne but keep stressing that they will only enter the party primary after Netanyahu deigns to step down. And Israelis appreciate courage.
In the last election Likud won 30 Knesset seats out of 120, nearly double that of its closest rival, but failed to form a government, which is unprecedented. The Knesset has 70 right-wing lawmakers but there is no Likud-right government – also unprecedented. Another precedent: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party has only six Knesset seats, and the government is an impossible variety of right, left, centrist and Arab parties. The anger at and disgust with Netanyahu must be so great that they broke all the rules of the game.
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And not by chance. For years Bibi has specialized in humiliating everyone around him, culminating in failing to keep the rotation agreement with Benny Gantz. That was also the moment they all realized they were dealing with a crook who could not be taken at his word. Likud cabinet ministers were astounded to learn that Netanyahu was willing to sign a rotation deal with Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar and Gantz, but refused to give any of them, his own colleagues, the opportunity to form a government, which would have kept Likud in power.
Now he is finally paying for the humiliation, the lies, the broken agreements, for debasing his cabinet members and insulting his cronies. Party leaders will refuse to join him even if he promises them the entire kingdom. Avigdor Lieberman was the pioneer, when he refused to give him a majority in the April 2019 election. The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman has a long score to settle with Bibi, who hurt him politically and personally. Sa’ar won’t join him either. He, too, has had his fill of tricks and deceptions.
Bibi lied to Bennett, then insulted him. Bennett knows Bibi would break any agreement he signs with him. An honest man doesn’t stand a chance against a crook. Bibi fired Yair Lapid in disgrace and humiliated him at every opportunity. He made dust and ashes out of Gantz. Even now Netanyahu can’t resist and occasionally attacks him in public while at the same time sending him envoys to persuade him to join his ranks. It’s in his nature. Bibi can’t do otherwise. He’s like the scorpion in the fable, who stings the frog that is carrying it across the river, dooming them both. He just can’t help it.
Likud members also know that Netanyahu wants to return to power not in order to help the country. He has an entirely different goal in mind. He wants to return so that he can stop the legal proceedings against him and avoid prison. The only way to do that is to become prime minister again and replace the attorney general. Bibi will never leave voluntarily. It will only happen if he loses the primary, and the countdown has already begun.
The turning point will come on November 11, when the Knesset passes the 2022 state budget. That will be the moment when Likud’s senior politicians realize that they will remain in the opposition for at least another year and a quarter. They know that after the budget is approved it will take a majority in the Knesset, 61 MKs, to bring down the government, and that won’t happen.
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So after the budget passes, the bitterness and anger will grow in Likud’s former ministers, who cannot get used to the back benches. They, too, have seen the Channel 12 News poll saying a Netanyahu-led Likud cannot form a government. That will lead to a rebellion in the party and to an unequivocal demand for a primary – which Netanyahu will lose.
And Edelstein? He’s already entered the history books. He will go down as the one who knocked the first brick from the wall.