Bennett and Shaked might be down, but they are not out
Analysis: The former darlings of the right made a costly mistake by splitting from their base to form a new party, and they paid the price, but they also know how to turn weakness into strength and are well-placed to stage an even more triumphant return
They had the most talked about partnership in Israeli politics, precisely because of their long and stable relationship in a place commonly populated by lone wolves. When everyone else sought to be a solo artist, they put emphasis on teamwork. In a forum where there is nowhere near enough space to contain every ego, in their relationship they regularly shunted the ego to one side. Even now, when their gambit so clearly failed, neither is hurling dirt at the other, although it may have been anticipated given their current political fates.
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked entered politics together. Bennett, then a successful high-tech entrepreneur and millionaire, brought with him a new energy and became the great hope of religious Zionism, and in his wake followed large waves of young people.
Shaked also came from the world of high-tech, but she was someone who was hard to digest at first: she is reserved and does not open herself up easily but brings new dimensions to Israeli politics. Within a short time, it was impossible to ignore her. Her authentic modesty and power - but mostly her restraint that is rare in politics - created the image of an "ice queen" that stayed with her throughout her long stint in government.
A path built for two was not always simple and included quite a few bumps and hitches. Some of these were the product of run-ins with Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, from the days when the pair were part of his Likud bureau as chairman of the opposition. Bennett and Shaked are now forced to maneuver in a tight spot, for even as Netanyahu ignores them, tries to diminish them and turn them into an irrelevance, letting him is not an option. Leading the religious Zionist camp and trying to appeal to the rightwing crowd means accepting Netanyahu's authority even when he pulls repeated knives on you.
Their joint record achievement was in the aftermath of the 2015 elections, even though they were disappointed with the results. For the first time, Netanyahu focused his campaign on Bennett and Shaked's target audience, stealing away vital seats at the last minute. Yet it was from this apparently weak position that they went into coalition negotiations with a single goal - to understand the situation that was unfolding and manage to turn to their favor.
On the dramatic final night of coalition negotiations, Bennett had the same message for everyone he encountered: "Go to sleep, in the morning we will have secured the justice and education ministries, as well as spots in the cabinet." And so it came to pass.
A clumsy miscalculation
One can say that Bennett is childish; one can criticize some of the moves he carried out with a recklessness that defines him for good and for ill, but the one thing one cannot take away from him is that he is driven by a real sense of mission - he believes in his way and he is committed to it.
As for Shaked, who in a short time became one of the most popular politicians in Israel, who changed the discourse within and about the judicial system, who stood up to the attorney general and president of the Supreme Court when she believed it necessary, is unlikely to vanish anytime soon. The fact that she is being pursued from every possible direction is a phenomenon worth expanding on separately. She is a clear electoral asset in any situation.
Nonetheless, the establishment of the New Right was a slapdash and disorganized adventure, born mainly of Bennett's daring and the belief that there should a different kind of right-wing. It was a clumsy move that exacted a high price and proved that in politics, there is no such thing as magic.
One can agree with their path or not - but one must admit that the duo were among the most dedicated politicians when it came to their public. There are quite a few opportunists who have been elected over and over to the Knesset, where cynicism is an inseparable part of the process. Many of them see things in one way but say the opposite, because it's resonates with their base. Bennett and Shaked are not like that – what comes out of their mouths is usually what is in their hearts.
They brought religious Zionism to the forefront and to new heights, and left their mark. It is not yet clear whether this is the end of the political path for the two, or what will happen to their alliance, whether they return to politics together or separately and in what form.
Perhaps two of the most prominent ministers of recent years have already peaked. Or, like in 2015, they will show how well they can leverage moments of weakness, and will come back even stronger than before.