What Happened to Benjamin Netanyahu's Political Prowess?

How did he get into a situation in which not only can he not stand his Likud party colleagues, they cannot stand him either?

Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus
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Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 3, 2015.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 3, 2015.Credit: Bloomberg
Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus

What happened to Benjamin Netanyahu, the campaigner who, within a matter of hours at the end of the March Knesset election campaign, managed to garner 30 seats for his Likud party? But then in the 35 days that he had at his disposal, he barely scraped through forming a government in the time allotted. What happened to his prowess? If that’s how he runs his small shop, how can he be trusted when he is negotiating with the world’s great powers? How can such a victor as he sees himself trip himself up like that? How did he get into a situation in which not only can he not stand his Likud party colleagues, they cannot stand him either?

Bibi had a team that conducted the coalition negotiations for him. It was headed by attorney David Shimron, who has also been his emissary in handling sensitive matters around the world, but it didn’t help. And now, even after informing President Reuven Rivlin that he had accomplished the task of forming a government, Netanyahu might be told what former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said at the time about the Oslo Accord – that it was as full of holes as Swiss cheese.

Netanyahu distributed cabinet portfolios in a disproportionate manner, not, for example, providing a cabinet post to coalition partners in a ratio reflecting every three or four Knesset seats held by the coalition parties. One might jokingly suggest that the small parties got more cabinet posts than they have Knesset seats.

And how did Bibi get himself to a point in which after he had Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman around the prime minister’s little finger, the situation was actually reversed and Lieberman crossed over to the opposition? And why did Bibi refuse to give Yisrael Beiteinu MK Orli Levi-Abekasis the chairmanship of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee? If Bibi had given the task to her father – none other than former Likud minister David Levy, who for 48 hours was a candidate for president – it would have been accomplished within 24 hours.

Does anyone know where Bibi disappeared to over the course of the weeks that he had to form a government? Is it possible that his absence from the negotiations was due to his focus at the time on the critical matter of how to trip up Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon as finance minister, as Netanyahu did with his predecessor, Yair Lapid? The truth is that the answers are not that important. What is important is that Bibi has put together a very bad government, a government in retreat, withdrawing in every sphere except withdrawal from the West Bank. There is a total absence of anything innovative. Bibi wants to go after the media and harm the powers of the Supreme Court – and then there is the matter of legislation negatively affecting Israeli Arabs.

Lieberman’s refusal to join Bibi’s coalition is the best thing that has happened to the country. What was Lieberman’s motive? He simply can’t stand Bibi, and the truth is, that’s understandable. Lieberman calls Bibi a waffler on policy, accusing him of making concessions to the Arabs and deeming him a leader who can be pressured. All of that is correct.

It’s not just Bibi. Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett is also in a bind with his own supporters. And on his turf, the battles are never-ending too, with everyone doing battle against the others’ plans. It’s not a cabinet. It’s a fire station.

Okay, so a peace cabinet this will not be in any event, but even in other policy sectors, Bibi’s influence will be close to nil. He is like a prime minister who has been shorn of his power. So at night he dreams of

Bougie – Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog. At the moment, Bougie is the guardian angel. If Bibi makes Bougie an offer that is hard to refuse, Herzog would probably not say no. Anyone who thinks Herzog’s No. 2 in the Zionist Union, Tzipi Livni, would veto such a move would be mistaken. In politics, there are no grudges, just political interests.

The problem is that this puts Bibi in an embarrassing situation. A coalition of a bare minimum of 61 seats rather than the 67 he anticipated is like a gun in the first act of a play. Kahlon had said that he wouldn’t sit in a coalition of 61. So he said it. Even though Bennett threatened not to sit in a government if his party colleague Ayelet Shaked had not been given the post of justice minister, he would have done so in the end. At any price. He didn’t have a real alternative. It was all talk. Bennett’s luck is that it is true what they say about Bibi: He can be pressured, to the greatest extent possible. The minute that he is caught in an embarrassing political situation, he is forced to pay the full political price. As they say in the vernacular, he takes the hit.

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