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The Fate of the Israeli Government Now Rests on Two Lawmakers

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Abir Kara arrives for a meeting with Naftali Bennett in Ra'anana, last month.
Abir Kara arrives for a meeting with Naftali Bennett in Ra'anana, last month.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

After the results of the 2020 election became known, a meeting was called between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister Zeev Elkin. By this time, the two were no longer on good terms. Netanyahu suspected – not without a basis – that Elkin was trying to foment a rebellion with the help of Gideon Sa’ar and Yuli Edelstein. Elkin found Netanyahu gray and gloomy: “They will form a government, they have 62 [seats] with the Arabs; Ivet” – meaning Avigdor Lieberman – “is with them entirely.”

Elkin suggested bringing Orli Levi-Abekasis over to his side. How can I do that? asked Netanyahu. For everything that I offer her, the other side will offer her more.

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You can offer her something the other side can’t, answered Elkin, and that’s the world to come. She knows she has no future with them – Amir Peretz won’t survive and the Labor Party will spit her out. Netanyahu was excited, and within a few days, Levi-Abekasis announced that – for ideological reasons, of course – she would support the candidacy of someone who had defamed her with enthusiasm.

The story of Idit Silman, as a source close to Naftali Bennett put it, can be seen in a similar way: Silman reached the conclusion that she and all her colleagues in Yamina faced political death; if they are already at death’s door, at least let them be buried in “the national camp’s” section of the graveyard, not outside of it.

To a large degree, the chances of the coalition’s survival depend on this question. If coalition members, mainly on the right, are convinced that the whole undertaking is about to collapse, then they will act to bring about its collapse quickly. Bennett’s task is to convince them that it can survive, that there is a future.

That won’t be easy. He will need help from the other wing of the coalition. In Bennett’s circles, they say, almost with a shout, that the issue of Eli Avidan has been settled and that this isn’t the time to resolve matters of religion and state that have been stuck in the mud for decades. The dismantling of Homesh could bring down the government, those close to the prime minister say. The way Bennett describes in private conversations a possible return of Netanyahu is reminiscent of the Kahol Lavan campaign against Netanyahu: that he is the Israeli Erdogan.

So far, it seems that if there is anyone who believes Bennett’s message, it’s the U.S. government. The possible visit by President Joe Biden will be interpreted through many different lenses – support for Israel, marketing a new agreement with Iran, Ukraine – but the real message is: Biden doesn’t want Netanyahu back. There’s no other way to understand the decision by the U.S. president to pay a visit to a prime minister on the precipice.

It also has to be said in complete honesty that even with some pretty shabby cards, Bennett has managed to reach quite a few accomplishments with the Biden administration. The nuclear agreement with Iran has been delayed time after time, while the removal of the Revolutionary Guards from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, which the White House had already started to sell, was put off and has become an almost public debate between the White House and the State Department. These are no small achievements for a weak prime minister without a great deal of access to the U.S. president.

Over the past few weeks, both the coalition and opposition have examined the option of whether another Knesset member could split off from their party in the context of the so-called Norwegian law (which allow ministers to resign from the Knesset, making way for the next person on their party’s election slate to enter instead), hoping to to expand their options for potential defectors beyond the duo of Abir Kara and Nir Orbach from Yamina. The short version is: “Yes.” The longer answer is: “No.” Between the time of the request to split off from the party and the time it reaches the Knesset House Committee for a vote, the relevant minister (Matan Kahana, maybe?) would have already resigned and returned to the Knesset – and the “Norwegian” lawmaker will no longer be in the Knesset.

This means that the direction of this government – or if you prefer, the direction of the entire country – is being decided somewhere between Kara and Orbach. For now, Kara is speaking as if he is totally on Bennett’s side, but experience has proved that he can change sides pretty rapidly. Orbach, whose political career was saved only thanks to Bennett, will find it difficult to switch sides – but it seems he intends to continue to extract a large right-wing price from Bennett.

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