If you thought Israel’s center-left bore the brunt of the damage caused by the past few years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule, it’s because you paid insufficient attention to what went on within the right. The entry into the Knesset of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Avi Maoz caused a number of aftershocks, and the question of how to proceed from there has set off a major dispute within the right. In short, the fight to save Netanyahu is doing as much to destroy this camp as the bloc that is trying to oust the prime minister. The only thing that has remained stable is the moral compass of the mouthpieces: Bibi is their north, their south, their east and west. All the rest squabble and suffer.
The facts are obvious to all: For the fourth time, Netanyahu failed to win the Knesset’s trust and no one in the political establishment thinks that a fifth election will change the situation. It’s possible that the right chamber of the national heart is beginning to warm up to the possibility of a civil partnership with the Arabs; it’s definitely possible that awareness of the rising tide of violent crime in Israel’s Arab communities has sensitized the right to the daily suffering of Israel’s Arab citizens, and within the so-called ideological left there may be people who are capable of opening, albeit slowly and cautiously, a dialogue with United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas. But in order to carry out the mandate given to the right-wing parties to form a narrow right-wing coalition that is dependent on the UAL, as Netanyahu seeks to do, they will have to do something they consider unthinkable.
The mistake of putting them all into a single, opportunistic basket is a common one. The mouthpieces did suddenly discover the charming sides of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, but not everyone in the right is capable of rebranding “terrorism supporters” and “terrorist-huggers” so swiftly. Many of the dominant voices in the right feel that establishing a narrow right-wing coalition that relies on support from Abbas – and at the cost of “subjugating religious policy to the Haredi parties,” as journalist Yair Cherki put it in a clear-eyed column in Makor Rishon last week – will have lethal side effects.
The “Shimon Riklins,” in contrast – that gang from Israel Channel 20 and Galey Israel Radio that the ideological-right journalist Kalman Liebskind called “tough weeds of the media” – are pressuring Bezalel Smotrich, the chairman of the Religious Zionism party, to “save the right-wing government” headed by Netanyahu at any price and not to forsake it to persecution by the judicial establishment. The “Riklins” warn Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett against daring to build his political future on the ruins of the right-wing government.
These people would seem to be the distorted mirror image of the voices on the left that called for replacing Netanyahu even at the cost of voting strategically for Yamina or for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party. But while the latter were motivated by a well-founded fear for Israeli democracy in the event that Netanyahu is not ousted, the Riklins’ sole goal is to save their own ass, or the wallet in the pocket that covers it.
It does not take much, just a little decency and clearheadedness, to recognize that Netanyahu bears sole responsibility for today’s apparent political deadlock. In any other circumstance we could amuse ourselves by entertaining the prospect of some type of unity government to pull the cart out of the mud. But Netanyahu chewed over the word “unity” and then spat it out into the faces of his coalition partners, before throwing the political system into an endless spin cycle of elections that serve only him.
Accordingly, the right and the center-left must accept the fact that the only logical compromise is to establish an illogical government that extends from Sa’ar and Bennett on the right to the Meretz party on the left. If Bennett exploits the new situation to demand the premiership for himself, despite his party’s having just seven Knesset members, he will confirm the claims of Netanyahu’s supporters that his own political career is his top priority.
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Such a government can only be headed by Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is the largest in the bloc. It must also be open to including the Haredi parties. That is the only unity government that is possible for the time being, and all the sides must try to believe that it will function properly and also go some way toward healing the rifts.