By now most of us have heard that Yair Lapid, the leader of the center left Yeah Atid Party, has cobbled together an agreement for a coalition government that will remove Bibi Netanyahu from office. This is potentially good news. With the emphasis on potentially. Because if you think Bibi is going to go quietly, let alone easily, I have a bridge to sell you. On a beach. In a swamp. In Floriduh!
Anshel Pfeffer, who is Bibi’s most recent biographer, though I’m sure he is an unofficial one as I can’t image Bibi was happy with the excellent book Pfeffer wrote, has written two articles this weekend – one in Haaretz and one in The Economist – that explain what is going on and why Bibi won’t go quietly and easily and why he may not go at all. Unfortunately they are both paywalled.
Fortunately he has tweeted out his analysis of the situation. Since tweets are still making the blog behave strangely for a lot of us, I’m going to copy and paste the text of his threads into quote boxes below links to the first tweets in the thread.
Pfeffer begins with Naftali Bennett’s remarks about becoming prime minister (apparent) as a result of the coalition deal Lapid has put together. In this deal, Bennett who is just about completely in Israel’s political wilderness, will serve as prime minister for the first two years with Lapid taking over as prime minister for the final two years of the coalition government. Here’s Pfeffer’s analysis of Bennett’s remarks:
Bennett up: “4 elections have damaged the state… ministers haven’t lead and instead spread hatred and discord among the nation, to cover their failure. It won’t happen again, not on my watch. The political crisis in Israel is unprecedented in the world. We can stop the madness”
Bennett: “There is no majority for a right-wing government. It’s a lie. It’s failed because no-one believes the promises will be fulfilled. Netanyahu isn’t trying to really form a right-wing government, he’s taking the national camp and the state of Israel to his personal Masada”
Bennett: “I’m going to work with all my strength to form a unity government with my friend Yair Lapid. All the parties are invited to take part. None of us can fulfill all our ideologies but this will be a government that will not be against any part of society, but for everyone”
Bennett: “To my friends in the right-wing. They’re trying to frighten you this will be a left-wing government. It will be more right-wing than the current government. The left has appointed (me) a former CEO of the settlers council and a man of Eretz Yisrael as prime minister”
Bennett: “This will not be a government that will return parts of the Land of Israel. It will be a government that will be capable of embarking on a war if necessary. There’s a well-oiled machine that is spreading lies in the heart of the public. Don’t be afraid of them.”
That’s it. Bennett is over. He’s finally burnt all his bridges with Netanyahu. There’s no way back. He’s now busy making his excuses to the right-wing for joining an anti-Netanyahu coalition with the centrists and left-wingers, but he’s on his way to the Prime Minister’s office.
“Netanyahu is trying to take the entire state of Israel to his personal Masada” was Bennett’s key line. I wonder who came up with that one.
Now it’s Netanyahu’s turn: “I stand here tonight as a loyal representative of the public elected by 2 million voters (he’s including the voters of the other parties of his blocs) who chose me to protect the people of Israel. They know my compass isn’t broken. I heard Bennett”
Netanyahu: “Bennett said hollow phrases. He’s committed the fraud of the century. Naftali your promises are empty as feathers. If people knew the truth, no-one but yourself would have voted for you. The only thing he cares about is being prime minister. He flip-flopped 3 times”
Netanyahu: “Bennett’s empty words were to transfer the votes from the right to the left. We can still form a right-wing government. If we take the unorthodox step of a government in which Sa’ar is PM 1st, then me, then Bennett. It’s crooked, but a left-wing government is worse”
Netanyahu: “Bennett says we can’t have elections. He’s not saying it because it’s bad for Israel. But because he knows he’ll be wiped out in another election. He only cares about himself and about being PM for two years. Don’t form a left-wing government. It’s a danger to Israel”
Netanyahu: “Left-wing, left-wing, Iran, Hamas, Iran, Hamas, who will stand up for Israel? For the IDF? What will they think in the world? In Washington?”
Netanyahu: “They call it change, healing, democracy. What hypocrisy, what hatred. They are like Assad in Syria and the rulers of Iran.”
OK. I’m sorry, but all these profiles of Bennett as prime minister and handing-out of medals to the architects of Bibi’s downfall feels a tad premature. I don’t want to depress anyone, but this is the most difficult coalition to build in Israel’s history and it’s far from done.>
For a bare majority of 61, this Bennett-Lapid coalition needs to finalize agreements between 8! separate parties, make sure no-one jumps ship and seal an unprecedented deal with an Arab-Israeli party. All this with Netanyahu fighting for political life and his proxies unleashed.>
What happened tonight is that Bennett finally burned his bridges with Netanyahu, after 15 years of an abusive relationship. It’s a major milestone in Israeli politics, because it seals the split in the right-wing between Netanyahu and the Bennett-Sa’ar-Lieberman trio. But still..
To form the “government of change” will still take a few more days, probably more than a week, of fiendishly difficult political maneuvering under intense pressure from Netanyahu. It looks like it’s happening but hold his obits until the actual swearing-in, if and when it happens
Bennett is not a real political improvement over Bibi. He’s just as revanchist, just as extreme. He just doesn’t appear to be a crook. Gideon Sa’ar, one of the other extreme right alternatives to Bibi is the same way. As is Ayelet Shaked. All of them are neo-nationalists and neo-fascists, they’re just not Bibi. And Sa’ar and Shaked are much younger and much more photogenic. Regardless, it is important to remember that just two months ago Bennett signed a loyalty oath to Bibi, which he has now broken.
Naftali Bennett signed a loyalty oath to Benjamin Netanyahu only 2 months ago https://t.co/s6GdpDGyez
— Noga Tarnopolsky (@NTarnopolsky) May 30, 2021
Lapid better have gotten some pretty large and solid assurances regarding Bennett actually transferring the prime ministership to him, as well as placing limits on the right of center and right wing members of the coalition, as well as Bennett’s actual power and authority as prime minister, otherwise Bennett will knife him in his political back the first chance he gets. My understanding right now, based on what is being reported. is that since there are many more center left and left of center members of the coalition that the right wing members will be limited, but the proof will be in the final agreement. If Bennett is basically a figurehead and the most extreme elements of the coalition – all on the right – are limited in the ministries they’re given control over/the cabinet positions they’re given, this might work. But it is also an incredibly complex coalition and even if Lapid can get agreement for it and it survives whatever legal challenges and political dirty tricks Bibi will deploy to try to stop it, Lapid will be hard pressed to hold it together for four years, let alone four months.
Israel is in an incredibly dangerous place. It has had caretaker governments for the better part of the past two years. This has severely limited the ability of the Israeli government to function as Bibi has sacrificed governance to his own survival and ego. This complex coalition may be the way to bring an end to that stalemate, but it may also collapse under its own weight. And until or unless a leader arises in Israel who is willing and able to take on the underlying political, social, economic, and religious dynamics that have created this socio-political dysfunction in Israel, Israel will continue to walk along the knife’s edge towards ever greater peril.