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?).