As Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition negotiations drag on, Thursday night representatives of United Torah Judaism arrived at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem for more talks, and they were not happy. “There are significant gaps,” one of them told Ynet, and added, “Netanyahu treats us with disdain.”
The official resented the conduct of the Likud chairman, saying that “Netanyahu treats us with disdain as if only he brought about this victory. He must have forgotten that we went into exile with him for three years – we fought in the trenches and spat blood in the committees while he and all his Likudniks traveled all over the country with their primaries.”
The man concluded: “With all due respect, Netanyahu should stop patronizing us, start seeing us as partners and offer a serious response to our needs and demands. In the meantime, his proposals are embarrassing and humiliating.”
As I reported on Thursday (Netanyahu Using Divide & Conquer on Steroids Against Smotrich, Ben Gvir), Netanyahu has been even more offensive in his conduct with the Religious Zionism/Otzma Yehudit faction. Believing he could pit the two allies Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich against each other by bribing the former with an appetizing list of promises that would make any settler drool copiously. Netanyahu I hoping to drive a wedge between the two leaders, but both have declared that he either accepts both of them––and their demands––or gets neither to join his government.
To stress this point, Ben Gvir announced on Thursday that he would delay his request to separate the technical alliance of Otzma and RZ, to maintain the faction’s strength of 13 mandates (Noam’s MK Avi Maoz already declared himself a one-man show).
For both national religious leaders, the issue is not getting this or that portfolio, but the realization that their voters would never forgive them if they blinked first in their staring contest with Bibi. They ran on a promise to steer the presumed PM to the right, despite his long history of padding his coalition governments with center-left politicians: Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, Moshe Kahlon, and Benny Gantz. When Israelis vote for right-wing politicians and end up with left-wing governments, the culprit is Bibi Netanyahu. That’s why both Ben Gvir and Smotrich have promised this time their government would be “full right,” or, as Smotrich put it recently: You voted right, you’ll get right.
If they fail to make good on this promise, no matter how tempting Netanyahu’s promises of a right-wing paradise would be, the Otzma/RZ 14 mandates would evaporate come the next election. If you doubt it, look at Gideon Sa’ar and Ayelet Shaked who broke their promises to veer right: he has shrunk down to become irrelevant, and she was eliminated.
In other words, if this time around this “full right” government does not bring real achievements on personal security, governance, justice reform, Jewish identity, the Law of Return, and legalizing all the settlements, this will be proof that the right really does not know how to govern and Netanyahu is justified in looking down on them and preferring to deal with the folks he respects.
There’s no doubt that, much like Jews who won’t trust anything until a goy praises it, Netanyahu honestly believes that to thrive politically he needs the support of the left, especially the leftist media. Why two out of the three criminal indictments against him have to do with his unyielding desire for good coverage from the left: Case 2000 accuses Netanyahu of a shady deal with the publisher of Yedioth Aharonoth for improved coverage; and Case 4000 alleges a shady deal with the owner of Walla to the same end. And this while his admiring American patron, the late Sheldon Adelson, set up a thriving daily right-wing freebee dedicated to adulating and praising Bibi.
Smotrich knows this may be his only opportunity to make a real change in Israel’s system. Whether he eventually lands Finance or Defense, he would take full advantage of the domineering capacity of either office to permanently alter what has been set up 74 years ago as a centralized, tyrannical, Bolshevik network of influence and nepotism. For once, two groups that have been kept out of controlling the system for decades: Haredim and the national religious, have a chance to start reforming it.
This is not, in reality, a right vs. left story – there are very few leftists remaining in Israel. This is outsiders vs. insiders, and Bibi, unfortunately, loathed as he may be by his rivals across the aisle, is the ultimate insider.
This is not going to be the quick negotiation process Netanyahu promised after the elections. As has been the case every time Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition government in the past, he will probably be forced to ask President Herzog for his allotted two-week extension, and won’t sign the deal until a few hours after midnight of the final day.
All Smotrich and Ben Gvir have to do until then is not blink first. They must remain loyal to each other, drink lots of coffee, sleep only when absolutely necessary, preferably with one eye open, and, of course, make sure Ayala, Ben-Gvir’s wife, is always nearby, holstered gun and all.