Photo Credit: Koby Gideon (GPO)
PM Naftali Bennett at the end of his Corona Cabinet meeting, Oct. 3, 2021.

The second session of the 24th Knesset opened on Sunday, and the Lapid-Bennett coalition is consumed by the relentless effort to keep things together through the November budget vote. If they get the budget, it would mean two more years of secure operations, including the moment sometime in the spring of 2023 when Naftali Bennett hands the wheel to Yair Lapid. If they fail to pass a budget next month, well, it would mean the end of this government, new elections, and subsequently the end of several political careers among the nice men and women around the cabinet table.

It means that everyone around this table, arguably the most heterogenic assembly of political parties, from Meretz and Labor on the left to Yesh Atid, Blue&White, and Israel Beiteinu at center-left, New Hope and Yamina on the right, and Ra’am – they all have weighty reasons to want to work hard to keep this government alive. But as the momentous budget vote grows near, it also appears that many of them are already figuring out how to manage the potential collapse of the coalition government and where they’d like to land when the chips are down and a new election is declared.

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Politics makes strange bedfellows for sure, but it also makes extremely nervous bedfellows.

It doesn’t matter how much PM Naftali Bennett roams the world, presenting his government as a new Israeli chapter of dialogue and sharing, Mati Tuchfeld argued on Monday in Israel Hayom, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s home paper, “Government is not a symposium or dialogue in a cultured milieu, the government is the executive arm of the state. But the current government looks more like an eclectic assemblage.” Tuchfeld is certain the winter session will further sharpen the differences among Bennett’s strange bedfellows, but probably not to the point of a blowup.

Sunday offered a glimpse of things to come for Naftali Bennett, as it appeared that many of his coalition partners delivered a nasty message in his direction. There was his brother in arms, Lapid, who reportedly blocked out his screen during the entire Corona cabinet meeting. There was brother Liberman who was too busy to show up and sent a substitute. And there was brother Nitzan Horowitz, the health minister, who left early the crucial health-related meeting to go meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to talk about a two-state solution. And brothers Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar announced that the criminal investigation of Netanyahu’s involvement in the purchase of German submarines, the investigation Bennett was adamant about not conducting, will be conducted. For good measure, Gantz also mentioned to Mahmoud Abbas that he wanted be the next Yitzchak Rabin, meaning the prime minister who initiates a peace process with him.  And of course, there was Ra’am MK Waleed Taha, who on Saturday night threatened that if the issues his party wants to see promoted are not promoted, “We’re going to new elections.” And Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas wants his changes to Family Reunification Law.

So far, Bennett was able to pass the budget bill in the government, which was not a small feat. The various Knesset committees are already working on amendments that would be attached to the bill before the second vote in the plenum – of course, the opposition is protesting and suing and screaming bloody murder about being ousted from chairmanship positions, but, hey, like brother Joseph Stalin, if you want an omelet you have to break some eggs.

The Lapid-Bennett government has about 40 days remaining until the budget must pass or else. The main battles are not with the opposition parties which have made themselves irrelevant with their non-stop provocation of Bennett. They’ve gone after him so hard and incessantly, as did about half of his own camp, their rabbis, and their retired politicians, that Naftali Bennett appears to have turned them off. As has been the case since the inauguration, Bennett’s real fights are with his partners, through the Regulations Act (the Israeli version of the reconciliation in Congress), over the finance reform, the agriculture reform, the kosher supervision reform, and raising the retirement age for women from 62 to 67. There’s more, of course.

Bennett is fighting on all these fronts while managing the fourth wave of the Corona pandemic. And lo and behold, somebody upstairs is smiling on the feisty self-made millionaire from Ra’anana: the Corona numbers are down, despite the holiday cycle, despite Uman, Uman Rosh Hashanah, despite starting the school year on time, September 1, and even though there are no more red countries Israelis are forbidden to visit. The numbers are down because Bennett fought the healthcare experts, showing in the process that he can be as nasty as anyone else on the scene, refused to impose a lockdown—Netanyahu might (or might not) have had the country in a fourth and fifth closure by now—and bet the farm on the third vaccination, the Pfizer booster shot.

It worked. The number of critical patients is down (and not only because some of them died). The Israelis responded to the PM’s unforgiving motivational effort, depriving them of access to everything should they not take it on the arm one more time.

On paper, there are many good reasons why Naftali Bennett’s effort at managing the most unmanageable coalition in Israel’s history should fail. But as the days of his reign turn into weeks and the weeks into months, a very good reason emerges why those efforts will succeed: Because too many of the politicians will find themselves out of the Knesset if it fails.

Update: On Monday, Bennett, Lapid and Liberman met, according to a report by Amit Segal, and it was agreed that Lapid will instruct the other ministers and MKs to calm down as they are rocking the coalition.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.