The weeks between the time the elections committee closes shop and the results are final, and when the president calls in the man or woman who would be the next prime minister are as heady as draft week and as silly as spring break, but without the booze. For the next couple or three weeks, expect to hear—including from yours truly—the wildest speculations and combinations of who’s in and who’s out. Take all of it with a chunk of salt, but don’t ignore the rumors and speculations altogether, because somewhere in there hides the one true prediction.
The problem is, at this relatively early stage of the game, that even the people at the top who are expected to create the perfect coalition don’t yet know where they’re headed. As Ha’aretz revealed this morning, the country’s semi-official king and queen, Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, are doing their darndest to make sure Jewish Home is not in the coalition, because of their “murky personal relationship with the head of the party, Naftali Bennett.”
This is such a classic tale of no good deed going unpunished. Back in 2006, when Bibi Netanyahu was on the matte, beaten and defeated, probably crying in his sleep and wondering if that furniture chain store would take him back – it was Naftali Bennett and Ayala Shaked who showed up and—as volunteers—picked up the fallen politician and infused his dreadful campaign (he had just led the Likud to a 12-seat presence in the Knesset). But Bibi’s third wife, Sara, was interjecting herself into every aspect of the work, until on one harrowing day that forever changed the future of the Jewish nation, Naftali Bennett asked her politely to get out of his way and let him work. Or unfortunate words to that effect.
You don’t say things like that to your boss’s wife, and you certainly don’t say it to Sara Netanyahu. It was epic, it was Shakespearean – and not the comedies. And the bad blood from that encounter is still alive and piping hot.
According to Ha’aretz, quoting a senior Netanyahu aide, Sara has vetoed Bennett, and “if possible in terms of the government, Netanyahu certainly prefer not to include Bennett in his government.”
Incidentally, Bibi’s other ousted chief of staff, Natan Eshel, is considered Sara’s true and trusted friend, and so speculations abound that he’ll be back at the helm in the new government. He’s the guy who was sexually harassing the office help. But he gets along with Sara, which is the most crucial qualification over there.
The other reason Bibi doesn’t want Bennett in is that Bibi is planning to give back something substantial in order to revive the peace process, not just words and pretense, but an actual piece of land, which may or may not involve removing Jewish residents – and he expects that Bennett would walk out at that point. So why empower him further by giving him a stage off of which he can do a dramatic exit?
What is it with Bennett and exits, anyway?
So, if Jewish Home is out, who’s in? Top choice, of course, is Yair Lapid, the most important man in Israel today, the man who could literally decide the country’s future—even more emphatically than Sara Netanyahu, and that’s saying something.
We’ve been assuming all along that the first partner Bibi picks up would be Lapid: combine Likud-Beitenu’s 31 seats with Lapid’s 19, and you got yourself a solid foundation for a government. All you need afterwards are the Haredim—notoriously easy to buy off—and if you don’t want Bennett, then maybe Tzipi Livni, and Kadima which made it in with Shaul Mofaz and another guy. At that point you can even invite Bennett in graciously, but only give him something like Tourism, or the Ecology.
Except that Yair Lapid, who originally was talking about letting the Haredim off for five years before implementing the crucial “equal burden” principle in army service, has had a change of mind. Realizing his own voters won’t forgive that kind of largess—Five years? Might as well go for Eternity—and now he’s been saying he wants everybody in uniform at age 18, except maybe a 400 Torah geniuses (Do we actually have that many? I’m just wondering – how do you farher—test a genius?).
Most important – the decision on who does and doesn’t get recruited is left to the IDF, not the politicians. It’s a sensible proposal, if you ask me, and could mean the decline of the Haredi parties, who would no longer be able to tell their voters they’re the only wedge between them and service.
That means that Lapid and the Haredim—all 18 of them—are not going to be easy to wed together.
In fact, on the same day Bibi and Yair met last week, the yet uncrowned Shas leader Ayeh Deri told the press that the “Lpaid route will not happen.”
Instead, the Haredim have indicated that they prefer the Moshe Ya’alon route, which was in discussion last summer, when Shaul Mofaz and his 28-member Kadima (they’re down to 2 at the moment) were looking for substitutes for the Tal law that Supreme Court had killed.
The Ya’alon idea does not set quotas for general recruitment, but only recruitment “targets” for each yeshiva, and a fine imposed on the yeashivas that fail to comply. It’s basically a way for the Haredim to buy their exemptions from service, and they like it better than the uncompromising Lapid version.
But these are only the most elementary, relatively humdrum scenarios.
Remember the “Beitenu” part of Likud-Beitenu? They have not been very happy at Israel Beitenu with the electoral price they had pay to make sure Bibi Netanyahu remains the unquestionable candidate for Prime Minister. Out of the 31 Likud-Beitenu seats, 11 belong to the Beitenu crowd—down from 15 (Likud is down to 20 from 27, ouch).
What if Liberman and his people ask for a divorce? What if they go with Lapid and Bennett, possibly with Shelly Yachimovich who is chomping at the bit to get into government, but can’t because she declared she and Bibi will never sit in the same government.
The math is almost there – Lapid’s 19, plus Liberman’s 11, plus Shelly’s 15, plus Bennett’s 12. What Lapid is planning to do ASAP, say the rumor mongers, is offer Shaul Mofaz and Kadima to merge with his own party, and so he, Yair Lapid, would have 21 seats – one seat more than Bibi’s.
Which is why the same rumor mongers are saying Bibi is now trying to absorb Mofaz into Likud, to make it a 22-seat party, again the largest, even if only by a squeeze and a shove.
Incidentally, over at Labor, the short knives have been pulled out already, and Shelly Yachimovich’s rule is being challenged by at least one colleague, Eitan Kabel. After all, this was their big chance at Labor, they were supposed to be the second largest party after this election – but were taken down by Tzipi Livni whose six seats clearly came from Shelly’s voters.
In my humble opinion, the information in this article is getting old while you’re reading it. So we’ll try to come up with new stuff on a daily basis. Please come watch with us how friends become foes, allies enemies, mortal enemies jump into bed together, and everybody and their uncle sell their voters down the river and for pennies at that.
We call it democracy, and on occasion we actually mean it…
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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