The meaning of “vile” is fairly obvious. But “maddening”? I am referring to the back-room bargaining and extensive game-playing that have been taking place as Prime Minister Netanyahu seeks a way to form a coalition and others seek to block him.
It could drive one mad (as in crazy).
To be so close to actually having a right-wing government, and to know that it may not (very possibly will not) happen!! What is there to say? That some who claim to be “right-wing” are not. That some hold the goal of getting rid of Netanyahu to be the highest priority. That some put the opportunity to become prime minister ahead of other concerns.
We cannot yet be certain as to what will happen. There has been a whole lot of wheel-spinning, but as I write, the situation is shifting rapidly.
I begin with a background review (some of this will sound familiar):
Likud – which garnered 30 mandates in the election — is by far the largest party in the Knesset. But even if Shas with 9 mandates, Bennett’s Yamina with 7 mandates, United Torah Judaism with 7 mandates, and Smotrich’s Religious Zionists with 6 mandates joined with Likud, they would still be 2 mandates short of the 61 needed to constitute a majority government (61 seats out of 120).
That is because Sa’ar’s New Hope party adamantly refuses to participate if Netanyahu would be prime minister. This party’s 6 mandates would bring the coalition up to a comfortable 65 mandates.
Besheva’s editor, Emanuel Shilo, in “It’s Now All Up to Gideon Saar,” makes a cogent argument about why Sa’ar should shift his position and join a Netanyahu government (emphasis added):
“Yes, Saar promised his voters not to sit in a Netanyahu-led government. But he also said more than once that he would make sure to grant authorized status to the young communities in Judea and Samaria, rectify some of the problems in the legal system, and prevent a fifth election. All of these promises are no less important than the promise to boycott Netanyahu. Since in any event Saar will have to break some of his promises, he must place the national good ahead of all else and agree to join a government that will, among other things, prevent Israel from yet another election so soon.”
Shilo makes a good case for why Sa’ar “must” agree to join a Netanyahu government, but there is absolutely no indication Sa’ar is seeing it that way.
Netanyahu has been attempting different approaches in order to form that government: One was the ultimately futile effort to bring in Sa’ar’s party. Another was an attempt to draw two members of New Hope to his ranks. Talk was that he might convince Ze’ev Elkin (pictured) who had been close to Netanyahu and bolted Likud to join with Sa’ar, and one other of the six people who are in the Knesset now as part of New Hope. But there has been no success there either.
Sa’ar and members of his party are not counting themselves out. They are declining Netanyahu’s overtures because they assume their refusal to join Likud will result in Netanyahu’s failure and that a new political configuration will emerge that is more to their liking (i.e., without Netanyahu). The problem of course, is that this new configuration would no longer be right-wing, although Sa’ar claims that this is where he stands.
Netanyahu has been courting Bennett, promising a variety of chairmanships and ministries for Yamina. Bennett has not committed definitively in either direction at this point, but he has made statements that I have found fairly deplorable. As Bennett’s participation with Likud would still not give Likud the necessary 61 mandates, there had been talk of bringing in Monsour Abbas’s Ra’am party, either as part of the coalition, with 4 mandates, or as support from the outside (for a weak minority coalition).
This will not work, however, because Smotrich would pull out the 6 mandates of the Religious Zionists. He has declared that he will never participate in a government that depends upon an Islamist party.
Enormous pressure has been applied to Smotrich to get him to bend on this: there had been an assumption that he would cave ultimately, but he has not.
I applaud him as a man who stands on principle.
A group of leading religious Zionist rabbis published a letter Monday supporting Smotrich’s position (emphasis added):
“The leadership of the Jewish State must be completely in the hands of the Jewish people. A government in Israel must not be based on Arab parties with Islamic national aspirations.
“We call on elected officials not to be tempted by pretty words whose whole purpose is to blind the eyes of the public in Israel…”
There have been appeals to Monsour Abbas, as well, to soften his Islamist position so that Smotrich might accept him. This, said Abbas, seemed to him “very strange,” which tells us where he is coming from. A senior Ra’am official has declared that there will be no changes of significance to the Ra’am charter, which declares:
“There can be no allegiance to [Israel], nor any identification with its Zionist, racist, occupier thought, nor any acceptance of any of the various forms of ‘Israelification,’ which would shed us of our identity and particularity and rights.”
I believe there are serious questions to be raised with regard to Islamists such as this being in the Knesset at all. I am NOT referring to Arabs, or Druze, who are loyal citizens and supportive of Israel as a Zionist state.
Certainly to form a coalition that is dependent upon a party that espouses the position of Ra’am would be to undermine the Zionist enterprise. Yet Bennett prefers to point a finger at Smotrich for holding up the coalition, making him the fall guy. He has not critiqued Sa’ar for being obstructionist. As far as I am concerned, Bennett’s position, based on political expediency, disqualifies him as a serious contender for Israeli leadership.
The mandate to form a government awarded to Netanyahu still has two weeks to go; he can then request a 14 day extension. But already center-left Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, is making the assumption that if Netanyahu fails to form a government, Rivlin will award the mandate to him next. As his is the second largest party, with 17 mandates, this is a reasonable assumption, if not a very palatable one. I do not see that Lapid possesses the qualifications necessary for leading the country. And at the end of the day it may be an erroneous assumption. (Read to the end.)
Lapid is already holding coalition meetings, including with Labor. His ability to put together a solid coalition is very far from certain: He would need the participation of a good number of parties – as he has just barely half the number of mandates of Likud, and even then might not make it. He would include support from Ra’am, without a doubt.
Lapid would also secure support from Bennett – the two have already discussed the possibility of sharing leadership, with a rotating premiership. Lapid is Bennett’s fallback position, you see, if things don’t work out for Netanyahu.
But in the end, things might not work out for Lapid and Bennett as he hopes. Today there was a statement from MK Yinon Azoulay of Shas (emphasis added):
“In politics, anything is possible – we don’t need to rely on those who are not our partners…
“We will not go with Bennett and with Lapid, no matter what.
“If Bennett is counting on us – we’re not there. We want to form a functioning government.”
Although I have been dissatisfied with a number of things that Netanyahu has done – his failure to act to adequately protect the Land against PA incursion, his tendency to drive people away, his proclivity for hanging on forever, I have concluded that at this present juncture there is no one else equipped to do the job, for the current contenders have shown themselves to be a fairly pathetic bunch.
In many regards Netanyahu would do very well. Certainly a solid proportion of Israel’s voters think so. What I had envisioned – prayed for – was a solidly right-wing government that would keep him on track.
There is no question but that Israel owes him a debt of gratitude for his foresight and persistence in securing Pfizer vaccine, so that Israel leads the world in corona recovery. And now we learn that the children will also be vaccinated, as millions more doses of vaccine are being purchased.
And it is no small matter that he has shown diligence and determination in confronting the Iranians, and has a presence on this issue that the world notes. He has, as well, the capacity to speak for Israel internationally: a factor in Israel’s new image as a world leader.
However, there is considerable doubt as to whether he will secure the opportunity to continue to speak for Israel on Iran or other issues.
Among the ideas floated in order to shift the situation in Netanyahu’s favor was one that would have provided for someone to take over his position only until his trial ended. I have no particulars on this, as it went nowhere.
Then MK Aryeh Deri of Shas proposed a one-time direct election for prime minister – spelled out as an amendment to Basic Law – in order to preclude the need for another full election. This wouldn’t solve the problems for Netanyahu, but might shift the dynamic in his favor. See details here:
The political news of greatest import at the moment, however, is this:
The Knesset Arrangements Committee is particularly powerful during the interim of time until a new government is formed. During that time, it controls the legislative agenda and determines what other Knesset committees will be formed and who will serve on them.
A vote on the makeup of the Committee was scheduled for yesterday (Monday) in the Knesset plenum. Likud and Yamina had worked out an arrangement that would insure a right-wing majority on the Committee; this meant that Yamina had agreed (for a price) to support the Likud proposal for the Committee, which was submitted by Knesset Deputy Speaker Miki Zohar (Likud). MK Meir Cohen presented a competing Yesh Atid proposal that would structure the makeup of the Committee differently.
Likud, in the end, lost the Committee vote, however, because Ra’am voted with Yesh Atid. Lapid had promised Abbas a deputy-Speaker post, a seat on the Knesset finance committee, and chairmanship of a special, new committee.
And who did Netanyahu blame for this? Smotrich. Had Smotrich not criticized Ra’am, Abbas would not have voted with the other side to show he was not beholden to Netanyahu.
Imagine, that the political fate of our nation should hinge on the whims of an Islamist party that is opposed to a Zionist state.
MK Orit Struk had an appropriate comeback: “What has just happened in the plenum illustrates better than any other scenario how bad it would be to base a coalition on Ra’am…”
So where are we, in this incredible mess?
Shortly after the stinging loss on the Committee vote, Miki Zohar declared:
“We understand and internalize that we are on the way to the opposition. Netanyahu will lead the opposition. We will go with our heads held high.”
But that was an emotional Miki Zohar speaking for Miki Zohar. (There was one suggestion that this was a way to panic Sa’ar into joining Likud.)
Netanyahu had a different take: Now he says he sees no way to form a coalition that depends on backing from Ra’am. Good morning!! Maybe that vote regarding the Knesset Arrangement Committee was a blessing in disguise, saving us from worse. (Did he apologize to Smotrich?) The only option is the direct election for prime minister, Netanyahu has declared – an option furiously opposed by Lapid.
And there was another possibility put forward. I am not speaking for how likely it is that this will/or could happen, although David Israel of the Jewish Press (see link above) speaks with great confidence:
Says Israel: Netanyahu will fail, and Rivlin will assess that Lapid cannot possibly succeed, and will turn the matter over to the Knesset where another member of Likud will be selected to be prime minister and a right-wing coalition will be put together. Sounds lovely, and almost too easy.
And so, we will wait and see…
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution