I listen to the radio, I watch TV, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Every day now, politicians warn in interviews that we’re about to head to yet another election. They make an irrefutable argument: The Knesset hasn’t passed a bill to delay the budget and the parties are at an impasse. The journalists interviewing them sound really angry. Again and again, they ask: Why don’t you just pass the bill to delay the budget today and put an end to this whole saga? They must have forgotten about the “wee hours of the night law.”
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This law says that a politician only ever signs an agreement at the very last moment, and preferably in the wee hours of the night. Only then can he appear in the media and say in a weary voice: “I didn’t sleep all night, the agreement nearly blew up, I stormed out of the room and not until nearly dawn, at the absolute last moment, did I sign the agreement – and it is such an excellent agreement, I’m telling you.” The public hears this and says: “What a great leader, what a powerful personality, he put everything on the line and ultimately achieved everything he wanted.”
In other words, it’s all a big show of political theater. Everything that’s happening now is part of a heavy pressure campaign on Benny Gantz to secure his consent to change certain sections of the coalition agreement. It is clear that the deal will be closed at the last moment, on Monday night, after all the pressure tactics and threats being orchestrated from above by Benjamin Netanyahu, the master of tricks and shticks, have been played out.
And there’s a secondary clause to the main law: “The closer you get to the mountain, the bigger it appears.” That is, as Monday nears, the threats and intimidation will continue to mount and voices will be raised even more, but that will be precisely the sign that an agreement is imminent. As the saying goes, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
The lead actor in the play written by Netanyahu is Miki Zohar. He gives interviews all day, every day, spouting threats as he goes. But he knows too: Bibi won’t go for elections now. The conditions won’t let him. First, he’s afraid of a revolt in Likud. Many in the party believe that with his dreadful legal situation, Bibi won’t be able to form a government.
The second reason is the terrible economic situation. You can’t win an election when 800,000 people are out of work, tens of thousands of businesses have collapsed and young couples have no way to pay their mortgage.
The third reason is the weekly protests at Balfour Street, in Caesarea and on the bridges at major intersections. They’re causing a shift in public opinion, which is the real reason Netanyahu wants to impose a full lockdown in which protests would be banned “to prevent infection.” But of course.
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This is why Netanyahu instructed Prof. Ronni Gamzu to prepare for a full lockdown over the High Holy Days, a move that Gamzu opposes. He knows that the infection rate is declining and that the hospitals are not facing over-capacity. Gamzu also knows that a full lockdown would mean a death blow for the economy and a spike in the number of unemployed, which would be a real disaster. Problem is, even the prospect of a million unemployed Israelis doesn’t faze Netanyahu. He has only one goal: canceling his trial. Which is why he wants Gantz’s consent to let him be the one to appoint the next police commissioner, state prosecutor and attorney general.
A fourth reason is Naftali Bennett. His rise in the polls is driving Bibi crazy. On a normal day, Bibi would be willing to sacrifice an eye on condition that Bennett had to give up two. Today he’d be willing to have both eyes gouged out if it meant denying Bennett an electoral achievement.
I admit that I, too, am breaking an important political law here: “Never make a short-term prediction. Talk about what will happen ‘next year,’ since by then everyone will have forgotten whatever you said.” So I know that if the bill to delay the budget doesn’t pass by Monday and the election is moved up, my friends will be waiting to ambush and make fun of me. So let them.