Nahum Barnea
Nahum Barnea
Photo: Dana Kopel
Bezalel Smotrich

Is an anti-Netanyahu coalition even viable?

Opinion: Religious Zionist party's refusal to let PM cooperate with Islamist Ra'am paves way for an alternative unity government, but whether such a jigsaw of ideologues could really set aside their differences to truly work together is uncertain

Nahum Barnea |
Published: 04.19.21, 23:33
There is something both infuriating and embarrassing in the anti-Netanyahu camp's reliance on the extremist Religious Zionist party's refusal to allow the prime minister to form a government supported directly or indirectly by the Islamist Ra'am party.
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  • The two Kahanist punks who lead it, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, are somehow now seen as brave and incorruptible politicians for standing up for their values.
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    בצלאל סמוטריץ באולפן ynet
    בצלאל סמוטריץ באולפן ynet
    Bezalel Smotrich
    (Photo: Hadar Yoavian)
    Amidst all the excitement, people seem to have forgotten the xenophobic, nationalist and homophobic ideologies that these people are standing up for, with all party members connected by a shared hatred for the lifestyles, values and opinions of the rest of Israel.
    Netanyahu welcomed the Smotrich mutation into the right-wing mainstream. This is just another in a long line of sickening ploys to keep himself as prime minister, but this specific sin is unforgivable.
    On the campaign trail, Netanyahu called again and again for his supporters to vote for them, certain they had no real chance of passing the electoral threshold.
    Netanyahu was repeatedly warned that he did not fully comprehend what he was doing, that he was underestimating them and that they would not just obey his every whim. But he refused to listen.
    Now that Smotrich is threatening to be the one to boot Netanyahu from office, the irony is too great.
    Likud supporters who were swayed by their leader to vote for a religious-nationalist party now feel betrayed.
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    בנימין נתניהו
    בנימין נתניהו
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing members of his Knesset faction
    (Photo: Knesset Channel)
    Their rage is very reminiscent of the anger felt by Labor supporters who voted to get Orly Levy-Abekasis into Knesset, only for her to jump ship and join Netanyahu once her position was secure.
    However, in this case, the Likudniks' anger is unjustified. At no point did the Religious Zionist party cheat or lie to anyone. The most they can be accused of is ingratitude. That Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are not gentlemen should not be a shock to anyone.
    Smotrich's continued refusal is opening the way for a rotation government, which if established would be unlike any in Israel's history.
    There have been left-wing, right-wing and even unity governments, with some enjoying a parliamentary majority and some not.
    Each one of these governments operated under a central axis, with the small parties on the fringes.
    But the government that could form if Netanyahu fails to build a coalition is a jigsaw of opinions, ideologies and values.
    Its strength will be its greatest weakness: anyone sailing in the ship of state could sink it at any moment, pulling everyone else down into the deeps with them.
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    נפתלי בנט גדעון סער יאיר לפיד
    נפתלי בנט גדעון סער יאיר לפיד
    L-R: Yair Lapid, Gideon Saar and Naftali Bennett
    (Photos: Kobi Kuankas, Shaul Golan and Amit Shabi)
    Forming such a government is a tantalizing option, but the repercussions of failure would be calamitous.
    The only thing holding together what are in essence politically opposed parties - from Joint List and Meretz to New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu - was a shared consensus that the Netanyahu era must come to an end.
    This unifying factor disappears the moment such a government is formed.
    So could a unity government headed by centrist Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and far-right Yamina head Naftali Bennett succeed?
    Would there be mutual respect, honor and tolerance among its members?
    Netanyahu and his supporters would do everything in their power to attack such a government.
    Ehud Olmert, Avigdor Liberman, Gideon Saar and Bennett already know that Netanyahu is an adversary who believes that no trick is off the table.
    When he lost in 1999, Netanyahu went quietly. It is doubtful whether that would happen this time.
    Should such a hodge-podge government be formed, it would also be difficult to break down the level of suspicion among the party leaders.
    It would be hard to break through the wall between left and right, Jew and Arab, secular and religious, to reach any substantial decisions.
    But the alternative is even more dire.
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    נתניהו באולם בית המשפט
    נתניהו באולם בית המשפט
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears at Jerusalem District Court during his corruption trial
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    Netanyahu's corruption trial is at the center of it all. A Netanyahu-led government would be sure to nominate a friendly state prosecutor and attorney general to help him get him a comfortable plea deal so he can keep reigning as prime minister.
    If the anti-Netanyahu camp does manages to form a government, the trajectory of this trial would very different.
    A plea bargain might still be on the table, but it would be far less lenient.
    In two weeks, Netanyahu's time period in which to form a coalition comes to an end.
    One can only hope that Lapid, Bennett, Saar and Liberman have a coherent plan by then.
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