Netanyahu walks himself into a prison he created

Opinion: Last winter's election results were so rosy for Netanyahu, it blinded him to the truth, and on a wave of adoration, he attempted to capitalize and curtail the Supreme Court; Alas, he completely misread the situation and now finds himself with no good options left

Gilad Meiri|
December 8 of last year was a glorious day for Benjamin Netanyahu. A day in which the possibilities seemed endless. A day in which it was clear that right-wing parties, and Likud chief among them, have secured a clear majority in the Israeli Knesset. The people have spoken. They want yet another Netanyahu government.
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So he had two main options on how to go about it.
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Incoming coalition members
Incoming coalition members
Netanyahu picked a right-wing coalition
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky, Amit Shabi, Motti Kimchi, AFP)
The easy option - Netanyahu can simply approach all right-wing, conservative and religious parties that will easily recommend him as the man for the prime minister's office and build a right-wing coalition that can be up and running in no time, placing emphasis on a more conservative, religiously-focused state of Israel.
The difficult option - Swallow his pride, speak to parties that while not his biggest fans, could still have been persuaded to join a national unity government that would have had an unshakable majority and would have put emphasis on a more liberal-democratic existence in Israel.
He opted for the first option. I guess it's hard to blame him. Going for option two would surely have been more mentally exhausting.
Speaking to Lapid, who was prime minister at the time, and convincing him to be relegated to a post like foreign minister? Making the case to Benny Gantz that Israel now needs him as defense minister for another term? Building up the courage to look Avigdor Liberman in the eye and tell him he has always valued him and needs him in his government yet again?
That's a headache Bibi didn't want. He was just given the mandate to build any government he wishes, and he'll be damned if he was going to waste it on an arduous horse-trading campaign. The easy option it is.
The problem with building a coalition made up of entirely (well, almost) like-minded peers is that there's a shortage of people to tell you when you're headed down a dangerous path. More likely is that they will cheer you on, too absent-minded and drunk with power to examine the situation through a critical prism.
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מפגינים בעד ההפיכה המשפטית מחוץ למשכן הכנסת, ירושלים
מפגינים בעד ההפיכה המשפטית מחוץ למשכן הכנסת, ירושלים
Netanyahu misread the political climate
(Photo: Yariv Katz)
Embroiled in his own legal matters, having a strained relationship with the Supreme Court and having a friend in the Likud, namely Yariv Levin, who is extremely distrustful of Israel's judiciary, the conclusion for Netanyahu basically wrote itself - let's take on the Supreme Court.
Maybe he thought the people were so joyous in his victory that they wouldn't notice. Maybe he thought the Supreme Court's reach is not something the people would be focused on. Maybe he thought the people were too focused on the cost of living (an issue he was totally ready to take on... someday) to pay attention to some Supreme Court reform.
He really hoped no one would notice. There was only one problem - everyone on the planet did.
That was a severe miscalculation by the man politically known as "The Magician." A man who has come to master the art of swimming in shark-infested political waters and emerging unscathed.
This time it's different. He's not even out of the water yet and already he's hemorrhaging badly. Political scratches and bites all over him. How did the sharks ever catch up with him?
There were warning signs galore, but he missed all of them. Every single one. How come? Simple. His coalition followed him with adoring eyes, ready to stick it to the Israeli left and the "elitist" judiciary. What fun!
No one at that point, not even the balanced and ethical Yoav Gallant, judged the oncoming political threat correctly. They saw the protests beginning to emerge and thought to themselves: "No big deal. Just a few isolated and bitter left-wing agitators. This will go away."
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יואב גלנט
יואב גלנט
The one person who was telling Netanyahu the truth
(Photo: EPA)
Two more weeks go by. Then three. The political unrest is getting too heavy to ignore. The media is covering it. The opposition is encouraging it. At that point, Netanyahu was still in a position to turn it around.
But he had a good hand in this game of poker. Too good to fold, he thought. I can practically taste victory over the wretched Supreme Court, he thought.
"Screw it! I'm all in!"
The more he ignored the signs, the more his political clout became invested in his success in passing the reform. Now he finds himself in a position where backing off is too politically costly. He has galvanized too many right-wing voters to stop now. He instilled in them a hatred for the judiciary. Now they're invested too.
Letting the problem of political unrest fester, his political clout came smacking into an unbelievably angry, nationwide crowd of protesters. Highways are being blocked. Chants are shouted. Bullhorns sound off.
Even if his odds of successfully backing off the reform were quite slim at this point, he had one more shot. After all, it's "The Magician" we're talking about. He always has one more shot.
That shot came in the form of his honest and trustworthy defense minister, Yoav Gallant. He came to Netanyahu and told him: "Unlike everyone else in this coalition, I have no pompoms and I'm not gonna spell your name. I'm just going to level with you - regardless of the benefits of a reform, you need to back off. Israel is being torn apart. I can't vouch for the stability of the IDF anymore."
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מחאה תל אביב
מחאה תל אביב
Israel is on fire and Netanyahu did not see it coming
(Photo: AFP)
Well, that's it, right? No way is he going to ignore that. Seriously, how many more warning signs does the man need?
Apparently, he did need more. In lieu of listening to the one coalition member who was telling him the truth, he did the one thing that was sure to incense the protesters even more, if that was even possible - he fired Gallant.
That move was about as ill-advised as standing in the middle of a busy mosque and yelling you're an atheist.
All hell broke loose. Within minutes, Tel Aviv's Kaplan Avenue, the site of all major demonstrations in the past three months, was flooded with thousands of protesters. Just 30 minutes after that, it was tens of thousands.
Haifa, Be'er Sheva, Jerusalem and many other cities saw similar, equally impressive demonstrations pop up. Keep in mind - none of those were even planned. No one was counting on another demonstration. No one was counting on Gallant being fired.
In Jerusalem, crowds broke through police barricades and were spitting distance away from Netanyahu's private residence. They were absolutely livid.
Unforced, Netanyahu walked himself into a political prison cell he created. He has no good options. If he backs off the reform, he will face a fractured coalition who will surely lose faith in his ability to enact the kind of meaningful change they're hoping for. That's assuming it won't fall apart completely.
If he persists with moving forward with this reform, he will face a national mutiny the likes of which Israel has never seen. He will lose all legitimacy and will have no country left to govern.
Keep in mind, though... it is "The Magician" we're talking about. If anybody can get out of a situation that seems all but impossible, it's him.
Still, it doesn't negate the severity of the problem. His political reputation is getting torn apart. While I'm not clairvoyant, I believe what he's saying to himself right now is somewhere along the lines of: "I should've taken the difficult option..."
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