Photo Credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, February 26, 2014.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid met on Thursday with Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett to discuss with him the formation of a new coalition government. Just about two weeks ago, in the midst of operation Guardians of the Wall and the riots in the mixed cities, Israeli media reported that Bennett had said behind closed talks that he was dropping the idea of joining a “change” government. The term is a recent euphemism meaning no Netanyahu.

At the same time, Yamina and Likud teams also discussed on Thursday the agreement that’s being formed between the two parties.

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Bennett reportedly told members of his faction on Wednesday about the campaign waged by the Likud and Religious Zionism against him: “We are being bullied, we will not give in to pressure and we will do what is good for the country.”

According to reports, Yamina sent a message to the Likud on Wednesday: “If you do not present us with a government, we will establish one with Lapid.”

Commentator Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv on Friday that Bennett is using the sprinkler strategy: watering everyone at once. But, according to Caspit, “Bennett knows that Netanyahu has no government, with or without him. In choosing between a fifth election and a unity government, Bennett wants to form a unity government. He entered politics to become prime minister.”

Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz that Bennett is “super-sophisticated.” According to him, Bennett did not abandon for a minute his desire to be the prime minister of Lapid’s coalition. He facilitated awarding the president’s mandate to Netanyahu so that the latter would fail and the road would be paved for him and Lapid.

The flare-up in Gaza disrupted Bennett’s plan to swear in a government headed by him two weeks ago, according to Verter, who explained: “Bennett understood that under these circumstances, continued negotiations with Lapid and Mansour Abbas would open the gates of right-wing hell for him and his faction members. He, therefore, briefed reporters that there was no more a chance for the government with the left, and informed Lapid a minute before that.”

It worked, Verter continued. “He is planning the assault phase on the target for the beginning of next week. The proof of this is that although two weeks have passed since Bennett canceled the possibility of sitting with Lapid in a government, and no agreement has yet been signed between the Likud and Yamina. Why? Because Bennett is playing for time. The meeting with Lapid proved why Bennett was playing the time.”

The idea is that instead of sitting as a second-rate player with Netanyahu in a 59-member coalition government with Arab support, Bennett hopes to succeed as prime minister in a rotation government with Lapid with 58 members and Arab support.

Israel Hayom’s political correspondent Ariel Kahane wrote with quite a bit of bitterness on Friday: “Netanyahu was right, I was wrong.”

According to Kahane, “Netanyahu predicted that Naftali Bennett, despite his statements at the time about his commitment to the right-wing government, was already working to appoint himself prime minister while joining the left and one of the Arab parties. ‘He is blinded by the possibility of becoming prime minister,’ Netanyahu told me passionately, adding that Bennett should be pressured to remain in the right-wing bloc.'”

“When one politician says the other is a liar, they are probably both right,” Kahane continues. “But I remembered that two months before the election there was a third politician who predicted all these developments to me. The chairman of Religious Zionism, Bezalel Smotrich, told me even before the Knesset election lists were closed that he was under the impression that the chairman of Yamina was not committed to the right and instead seeks to leverage his political power. That’s why Smotrich divorced Bennett.”

Kahane pounds on: “Bennett is indeed joining the far left and even of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Ra’am party. He denied this, then admitted it, then announced severing his contacts during the war but renewed them, and so on. And there’s another indication. Two days before Netanyahu’s mandate expired, the prime minister publicly announced his readiness to establish a rotation government. Bennett and Sa’ar, in perfect coordination, simply ignored the proposal. To this day I have not received an answer as to why.”

Caspit actually hopes for Bennett’s success to become the next prime minister, and not because it means that Netanyahu would be out of office after more than a decade. The morning after the appointment, Caspit writes, “He will start working. He will also be joined by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Interior (or Transportation) Minister Merav Michaeli, and many others. The hundreds of senior positions in the public service will be filled with proper appointments (more or less).”

Most important, according to Caspit: “The government will pass a biennial budget laden with reforms and national projects aimed at accelerating the economy. The Minister of Justice will open a public course of required reforms in the judicial system while holding an orderly and balanced hearing. The jihad against the various systems of government will cease abruptly (he refers to the years-long battle of many on the right against the overbearing Supreme Court). Bennett will pay his first state visit to Washington and will be treated like a king at the White House. Even his English will be excellent but without the lies. The country will suddenly look a little more normal.”

In other words, the dream of the Israeli center-left does not begin and end with the ouster of Netanyahu, but strives for a normal government, with a state budget that has not been enacted for more than two years. Incidentally, such a government will not recognize a Palestinian state – too many of its members are enlisted against the very idea.

It will be a strange right-left government, but to remind you, Israel spent most of the 1980s with Likud-Labor rotation governments with considerable success. It was the collapse of the unity among the right-wing parties before the 1992 elections that shifted power to the left for three devastating years.

According to Kahane, the Likud believes that if Bennett does join Lapid next week, it would be “an act of fraud that is equivalent to the about-face of Ariel Sharon.”

As you may recall, Ariel Sharon, who as Housing Minister in the Israeli government was among the greatest builders of settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, left the Likud in 2003 and began promoting an aggressive anti-settlement policy that included redrawing the borderlines of long-established Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and the evacuation of thousands of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

The Likud’s hint is clear: Bennett will do to the settlements in 2021 what Sharon did to them in 2005.

It’s hard to believe this message, mainly because Sharon was trampled under pressure from the State Prosecution, which threatened to prosecute him for corruption over his shady relationship with millionaire David Appel. Bennett is a millionaire in his own right and so far there are no known skeletons in his well-endowded closet in Ra’anana.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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