Netanyahu and Bennett, a short-lived marriage
Nahum Barnea

A government with no horizon and no future

Op-ed: Likud leader and Bennett played a game of Russian roulette, and faced with a ticking clock, Netanyahu lost.

I won't be getting much joy from this funeral, Ariel Sharon was wont to say whenever his natural maliciousness clashed with his sense of national responsibility. And if Sharon were with us today, the news of the establishment of Benjamin Netanyahu's fourth government, in all likelihood, would have elicited a similar response.



Over the course of its 67 years of independence, Israel has had various kinds of governments – narrow, broad, successful, failed, short-lived and long-lived. Most were established following complex negotiations, fraught with crises. Irrespective of the events leading up to their establishment and thereafter, these governments all had one whole magical evening of celebration – like a couple on their wedding night.


Not by chance does the signing of a coalition deal resemble the signing of a nuptial agreement: After pen has been put to paper, the in-laws bravely shake hands, the ministers' families arrive dressed to the nines for the vote in the Knesset, and then the ministers, positively glowing with joy, pose together for the photograph at the President's Residence – one for the album. When it comes to politics, there is nothing more wedding-like than a coalition deal.


Benjamin Netanyahu. No Plan B (Photo: AFP)
Benjamin Netanyahu. No Plan B (Photo: AFP)


But the enthusiasm, the optimism, the freshness and even the innocence that accompanied previous governments to the wedding ceremony are sorely lacking this time around. Israel's 34th government is starting out with the sense that it has no horizon, no future.


There was very little talk this week in the political establishment about a wedding, while much was said about a divorce – when, how and at what cost. The new government has yet to reach the starting line, and already its end is in sight. I'm reminded of that famous Israeli supermodel who married in order to save her career from the punishment of being drafted into the Israel Defense Forces. Her wedding was held under the shadow of the fast-approaching deadline, just like the marriage between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett.


And indeed, David Shimron, the Netanyahus' private lawyer who represented the Likud family in the coalition negotiations, sniffed around at the President's Residence early in the week in an effort to ascertain whether President Reuven Rivlin would agree to extend the deadline determined by law for the establishment of a new government by just one day – from Wednesday at midnight to Thursday at midnight.


To this end, he suggested a system of his own for counting the days – a lesson in attorney mathematics. It was pathetic. The president rejected the proposal outright; the law is the law, he said. Rivlin had already stretched the law to its breaking point by agreeing to wait until midnight, despite the fact that a strict interpretation of the legislation would have required him to close shop at five in the afternoon – the time at which Netanyahu was asked by the president to form the next government, way back on March 25.


In the meantime, Netanyahu and Bennett played a game of Russian roulette. Each held a gun to their respective temples. Bennett took the risk of being accused of thwarting the establishment of a right-wing government and paving the way for the establishment of a coalition headed by Isaac Herzog; and Netanyahu took the risk of having to go back to the president and inform him of his failure to form a government.


Bayit Yehudi officials, meanwhile, were hard at work on an alternative plan: Barring an agreement with Netanyahu, they were set to advise the president to ask a different member of the Likud to form the next government – Moshe Ya'alon, Silvan Shalom or anyone else the Likud chooses.


Netanyahu didn't have a contingency plan. His threat, to approach Herzog, wasn't taken seriously. There was no way he'd be able to make good on his threat in the day or two before the deadline expired. Left without a choice, Netanyahu folded. He swallowed all the bitter pills Bennett concocted for him – and first and foremost, the appointment of Ayelet Shaked as justice minister. It was a knockout victory, a drubbing.


Nevertheless, were I Naftali Bennett, I wouldn't be celebrating just yet. In Israeli politics, a victory is just a prelude to a defeat in the future. It's the hubris, the compensation mechanism, the table of justice; it's the force that prevents the political system from falling out of whack.


If Bennett failed to learn the lesson from his extraordinary success of two years ago, which led to his resounding failure in the last election, he has learned nothing. The most pressing item on Netanyahu's agenda for the new government will be the removal from office of Bennett and Co. Forget Iran and the Palestinians; we're dealing here with an enemy from home.


Netanyahu has gone through the same several times during his long political career. It took him time to understand that failure is not the end of the world; you don't have to resign; you don't have to pack your bags and leave. You gather strength and start anew. It remains to be seen, however, if he has internalized the other side of the coin – the fact that a victory can be a false one, a hollow one, a treacherous one.



פרסום ראשון: 05.10.15, 00:24
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