It’s true that the coalition parties’ leaders have already agreed on a date for the next elections and the campaigns are on their way, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans for his final effort Sunday evening to prevent his government and the 20th Knesset from becoming dissolved.
Netanyahu will likely meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) to persuade him to retract his decision to go to the voter. If Kahlon refuses, he would be assigned responsibility for the fall, alongside former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who tended his resignation last week.
Around 10 PM Saturday, Netanyahu tweeted: “Tomorrow morning I will meet Moshe Kahlon for a decisive meeting before the cabinet session, in a final attempt to persuade him not to topple the government. If the Kulanu faction does not topple the government – there will be a government.”
And just to make sure the Finance Minister does not misunderstand the trap into which he is walking, the PM continued: “A right-wing government must not be overthrown. All the members of the Likud faction are interested in continuing to serve the country for another full year, until the end of its term in November 2019.”
In other words, any coalition partner who leaves, including most notably Habayit Hayehudi—which is ready to walk out should its chairman Naftali Bennett not receive the Defense Ministry portfolio—should expect to be attacked by the Likud campaign for their treasonous act.
Many on Israel’s right have been traumatized by the fall of the Yitzhak Shamir government in 1992 and the rise of Labor under Yizthak Rabin, which followed the disintegration of the Shamir coalition over the Madrid conference. Two key rightwing parties, who saw the conference as the beginning of the end for the settlement enterprise, walked out, after a third had left over a legislation dispute. In the elections that followed, one of those parties did not make it across the vote threshold, and Likud suffered a substantial vote loss, enabling Rabin et al to cobble together the left-leaning coalition that gave us the Oslo accords.
Netanyahu is warning his coalition partners of a similar fate, should he not be able to keep his government together. A Mano Geva and Mina Tzemach poll published Saturday night showed that should Labor appoint former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to head its Knesset list, the party could pick up 24 seats, compared with Likud’s 26. On the right, the two pollsters foresee Habayit Hayehudi getting 9 seats (a single seat rise); and Yisrael Beiteinu 6 seats.
However, on the left, any of these parties could join a Labor-led government coalition: Yesh Atid with 14 seats; Kulanu with 7 seats; Shas with 7 seats; United Torah Judaism with 7; Welfare advocate Orly Levy-Abeksis with 5 seats; and Meretz with 4 seats. That’s 68 seats, with the virtually guaranteed support on the two-state solution from the Joint Arab List with 12 seats.
And while UTJ may not be willing to sit in the same government with Yair Lapid’s anti-Haredi Yesh Atid, Shas would, judging by its history.
And so, when Netanyahu generates those warning signs regarding what could happen to the right should his government be allowed to fall this week, he is deadly serious: with better Labor leadership, with a few rightwing factions failing to get into the 21st Knesset, a leftwing takeover is an extremely realistic possibility. He is daring his coalition partners: Do you wish to be associated with it?
Would such a dare move Kahlon to accept Naftali Bennett as Israel’s next Defense Minister? Wouldn’t we all like to know…