It was like a scene from a spy movie. Yamina MK Nir Orbach and New Hope MK Sharren Haskel stood together talking. It was during coalition negotiations. The Likud people were selling the idea to the Yamina lawmakers that two of their numbers were ready to bolt. It was signed and sealed. “Can we know who?” “Sure, in a few days.” “Can we meet with them?” “Of course, meet them, see for yourself – a right-wing government headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a possibility.” Once, a meeting was set up in a secret location, but was cancelled at the last minute. After that Orbach was told that Haskel was one of the defectors. Orbach wanted to find out, but he didn’t dare call. At a meeting where both were present, they stood alongside each other. Haskel broke the ice: They’re telling you I’m a defector, you should know that it’s nonsense.
Now Netanyahu and his people played the same trick on MK Idit Silman (Yamina). This time, it worked. They arranged a particularly toxic cocktail for her, of the type that has taken out quite a few who drank it before. VIP treatment before the defection – Bibi in the evening, Religious Zionism lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich and Likud MK Yariv Levin, promises of plum positions – and right after that, they completed the maneuver. They leaked the promises and the meetings, they diminished her stature. They spread the word that “Smotrich wrote the letter,” and made it look like she's her husband’s puppet, and an opportunist.
That was not smart. If there is a chance that Silman will cross over, and not to the Netanyahu camp, it would be first and foremost because of the gluttony of the winners.
Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar know that elections now would mean suicide. Making a mockery of the Knesset for a year is not a recipe for success at the ballot box. And the chances are too low that Bennett would be able to restore the coalition to function properly. Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh has already announced that he will topple the government. Even now he hasn’t managed to overcome his ego and his anger against United Arab List chairman MK Mansour Abbas.
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi has a great chance to hop on the wagon. To save the coalition, to become part of it and convey to his voters that he stopped Netanyahu's return to power. Bennett needs Tibi like air to breathe, but the last thing he can sell to Yamina MK Abir Kara and Orbach is: “Don’t worry, we have a majority, Tibi is with us.” Will it be possible to enlist Tibi’s support for laws the coalition wants to pass, when he is not given the minimal respect of a partner with equal rights?
Meanwhile, Labor and Meretz have to swallow their own bitter pills. The yeshiva at Evyatar, the shelving of the law that prevents an indicted individual from forming a government, connecting the illegal outposts to electricity and water, and construction in the settlements. The speed with which MK Gaby Lasky (Meretz) apologized for her remark about money for the families of terrorists, suggests that these parties won’t have a problem swallowing these pills.
When Bennett stitched together Yamina, he explained that the members of his Knesset list were selected first and foremost on the basis of loyalty. In short, like Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana. Shortly after the elections, Sderot Mayer Alon Davidi resigned from the Yamina slate. He realized where it was headed. Bennett was asked in private conversations if these were the loyal people he had chosen. Bennett took comfort in the fact that while Davidi may have behaved like an Egyptian officer who fled with his shoes untied, at least he didn’t defect. Since then, Bennett hasn’t had a lot to take comfort in.
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Bennett restored a great deal of dignity to the role of prime minister. His conduct has usually been focused and practical, the imperial customs have vanished. His tragedy is like that of many other rebound leaders before him: It’s very difficult to thrive when you take over after someone as dominant as Netanyahu.
Now he faces an almost impossible political maneuver, and the only way for him to succeed at it is to persuade those who up to a year ago he wouldn’t utter a word to: Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, and Tibi – for whom it is worth paying a political price to save the government. Perhaps mediation between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin will suddenly seem like an easy task.