Two Netanyahu Rivals Are Better Than One

Both Gideon Sa'ar and Naftali Bennett present an opportunity for replacing Netanyahu with a 'genuine' rightist

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Gideon Sa'ar at a Likud party event in central Israel, December 23 2019.
Gideon Sa'ar at a Likud party event in central Israel, December 23 2019.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Once upon a time, when a genuine rightist used the phrase “only the right can do it,” he was expressing frustration: Only the right, under the leadership of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon (and with vehement opposition from members of the pioneering Zionist left such as Yigal Allon, Israel Galili and others), could have sacrificed the flourishing Israeli settlements in northern Sinai.

Obsessed with changing the way the world viewed him, Begin, then the right’s leader, also recognized “the legitimate right of the Palestinian peoples and their just requirements.” The most significant territorial concession made under the Oslo Accords, the transfer of Hebron to Palestinian control, also happened under a “right-wing” prime minister – Benjamin Netanyahu. These are salient examples, but by no means the only ones, of this “capability.”

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Along comes MK Gideon Sa’ar’s departure from Likud, and the polls are again forecasting that only the right can do it. But this time, for a change, it has the ability to uphold its true principles: preserving our homeland while also preserving the unity of the nation.

For the first time in a long while, there’s a real chance of replacing the man who poses as a rightist, Netanyahu, with a genuine rightist such as Sa’ar or Naftali Bennett. Both of them have personal traits that would enable them to mitigate the terrible polarization Netanyahu has created through his one-man rule and run the country fairly and honestly. But all this is on condition that they create the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

Since Sa’ar made his dramatic announcement, almost every pundit has predicted that the right’s strength in the next election will increase to between 80 and 84 seats. Even if Sa’ar and Bennett don’t join forces before the election, all the polls predict that they will win a combined 30 to 34 seats, while Likud will be left with just 23 to 25 seats. Netanyahu, according to these predictions, won’t be able to form a government without one of them.

Herein lies their personal and political test. If they stick to their guns, they will have the power to oust Netanyahu from the one-man government he instituted. The bloc should be headed by whichever of the two wins the most seats, and that person should be the bloc’s candidate for premier.

Inquiries to several people in Likud made it clear that if this happens, some of the party’s Knesset members are likely to join the Sa’ar-Bennett government. And if he has exhausted all other options, it’s possible that even Netanyahu will be forced to do so. But everything depends on both men’s determination and their adherence to the mission – ousting Netanyahu and rectifying his failures.

Without Netanyahu heading the government, even Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman may well agree to join. All of them together could produce a governing coalition comprising around 70 of the Knesset’s 120 members, even without the ultra-Orthodox.

As a side benefit, a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox could make an almost revolutionary contribution to that community’s rehabilitation. Keeping it away from the udder of coalition budgets until it significantly changes its lifestyle could force its male members to leave the ghettos of Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and other cities where pockets of poverty as well as personal and environmental neglect have been created.

The ultra-Orthodox must be brought to accept the fact that such a rehabilitation is the only way they can support themselves with dignity. (Until the state was established, most ultra-Orthodox men worked, while women, on orders from the rabbis, were forbidden to leave the house. But because the men subsequently became a “society of scholars,” the rabbis reversed themselves, sending the women out to work while imprisoning the men in yeshivas.)

All this and much more could be achieved if Sa’ar and Bennett steer their ambitions rationally and embrace the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, who was said to be the wisest of all men: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.”

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