Whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning from the start to use his new alliance with Blue & White chairman Benny Gantz as a means of humiliating and possibly suffocating Yamina – one of the three religious parties that had stuck with him through thick and thin while he was struggling for more than a year to come back to power – the plan, premeditated or improvised, turned out to be a smashing (literally) success. Yamina, heir to the union between the National Religious Party (NRP) and National Union parties which at one point yielded 12 Knesset seats and threatened Netanyahu’s chances with the Religious Zionist voters, especially in the settlements, is a threat no more.
Not only did Netanyahu taunt Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, one of the more skilled doers in Israel’s political arena, ignoring him for weeks while concluding deals with everyone else in his intended coalition – he put the cherry on top on Thursday morning by luring the man who used to be chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, arguably one of the least skilled politicians in recent history, away from the party that had given him his political life.
Former Education Minister and Chairman of Habayit Hayehudi Rabbi Peretz has joined the 35th government as its Minister for Jerusalem Affairs and National Projects. Apparently, those national projects include construction endeavors outside the Green Line which have been kept in the freezer by a decade of Netanyahu coalition governments.
By the way, Peretz is betraying not just his friends in the Religious Zionist camp who crowned him their chairman more than a year ago; he is also destroying the career aspirations of one of Israel’s more talented and patriotic women, Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely, who was promised the Jerusalem portfolio and will now instead be demoted from minister to just another MK.
— בצלאל סמוטריץ’ (@bezalelsm) May 14, 2020
Yamina co-leader Bezalel Smotrich summed up his disgusted response to the Rafi Peretz move Thursday with a tweeted picture of a Mitsubishi key chain, a reference to the 1995 seduction of MK Alex Goldfarb from the right wing party Tzomet. Goldfarb was lured into the Yitzhak Rabin government and voted in favor of the Oslo agreements, allegedly in return for a deputy minister’s post which came with an official car: a Mitsubishi. (In reality this was not at all how things went: Goldfarb only got a Toyota.)
Of course, Bennett et al can only blame themselves for their humiliating defeat at the hand of a world class politician who will some day, no doubt, teach courses on Machiavelli’s The Prince. After successfully forcing Netanyahu’s hand following the 2013 elections, backed by their phenomenal gain of 12 seats, Habayit Hayehudi and National Union began their downhill slide. In 2015, Bennett practically campaigned in favor of his voters choosing Netanyahu, which took the party down to 8 seats, and then, when this writing on the wall was not enough, Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, with Smotrich’s support, split the party in the name of seeking their real, right wing but non-religious voters.
In the end, there weren’t enough of those to even get them past the threshold vote, and the new right wing party disappeared from the face of the earth, never to be seen again. Habayit Hayehudi, which positioned former IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz at the helm, barely scraped by with 5 seats. But then a miracle of sorts happened: no one was able to forge a new government and so the country was thrown into two more elections and Bennett and Shaked were granted a new life, so, together with Peretz and Smotrich they eked out 6 seats.
But, you know, at that point, just after the March 2 election (which was already conducted with face masks in some locations, remember?), Bennett, Shaked and Smotrich (sure, Peretz, too) were in a position to destroy Netanyahu. It wouldn’t have been pretty, but politics is not about aesthetics. After a decade in which the PM had done everything in his power to diminish the political power of the Religious Zionist camp, they had him under the heel of their IDF-issued boot and they failed to do what Netanyahu later did to them.
Instead of joining a coalition government with Gantz, Liberman, Labor-Meretz-Gesher, and one of the two Haredi parties – and sticking Bibi in the opposition, to be followed by his court trial on three criminal indictments, but this time without the powers of his office on his side – Yamina supported him at every turn as he displayed his 58-strong right wing coalition against the enemies on the left; enemies with whom he now signed a coalition agreement.
By the way, even if that hypothetical Gantz government needed the outside support of the Joint Arab List, Netanyahu saw no problem in the past in coalescing with the Joint Arab List to get the results he wanted, such as when they helped him disperse the Knesset at the start of the year-plus electoral nightmare that brought us here.
As part of a Gantz government, Yamina could name their price. Bennett could stay on at Defense, Shaked could take back Justice, Smotrich could keep on transporting. It was a real opportunity.
Bennett, Shaked and Smotrich are three of the most talented public servants the Israeli right has ever produced. Each has reached remarkable achievements in whatever office they served. But they don’t have Netanyahu’s killer’s instinct, nor do they come even close to his Machiavellian machinations. The sad part is that Thursday’s final humiliation came as no surprise: the three amigos had to have known it was coming. So why didn’t they join the anti-Bibi pact?
Frankly, I don’t believe it was their principles. They had no problem destroying Itamar Ben-Gvir from Otzma Yehudit, not once but twice.
I think they were afraid to hurt ‘Daddy’ – especially Bennett and Shaked, whose political career began under Netanyahu’s wing, where their love-hate relationship started. They just couldn’t bring themselves to pick up the knife and stick it.
It is what it is.