The Knesset on Wednesday unanimously passed in a preliminary vote a bill calling for its dissolution, with 110 yeas and 0 nays. The bill was sent to the Knesset committee, headed by MK Nir Orbach who may or may not still be a member of the Yamina faction, and not to the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee which is headed by Gilad Kariv (Labor). The difference is that Kariv would have moved swiftly to bring the law back for a second and third vote, thus preventing Likud Chairman and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu from putting together a last-minute right-wing government, avoiding the dispersal and ruling unhindered through sometime in 2025.
But does Netanyahu really want a coalition government in which he “only” enjoys the support of 30 Likud MKs, as opposed to the support of 35 to 36 MKs he is being promised by every single public opinion poll? Also, does Netanyahu really want a right-wing only coalition government in which he, the PM, would also mark the left? He has never done it in the past – there were always some ministers to his left whom he could blame for all the “leftist” failures (Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, all come to mind).
Two shrewd political animals, UTJ Chairman MK Moshe Gafni and Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich are working hard this week to wean Bibi of his strategy which, truth be told, has proven to be a disastrous failure in the past four elections. What they are proposing is a brave, new move for the next PM: extend a hand in peace to his right-wing political rivals, most notably the pesky, unyielding, Gideon Saar, who is about to conclude his stint as Justice Minister in the collapsed Lapid-Bennett government.
In addition to serving as Justice Minister, Saar is also Deputy Prime Minister. According to political correspondent Zeev Kam of Reshet Bet radio, the idea being bandied about is that the right-wing opposition factions, while voting to disperse the Knesset, would also vote to appoint Saar the caretaker prime minister instead of Lapid. This can be done with the combined votes of New Hope and some of Yamina, and the right-wing opposition’s 52 votes.
Yamina MK and Interior Minister for another week Ayelet Shaked has already said this week that she is ready to serve in a Netanyahu government. If she can bring along five out of Yamina’s seven MKs (assuming Bennett won’t be joining because he is still having his love affair with his war buddy Lapid), that’s six, plus Saar’s New Hope’s 6, and Bibi can have himself a 64-seat strong coalition.
Remember – jumping ship after the Lapid-Bennett government has collapsed is not a betrayal nor does it constitute reneging on the signed coalition agreements. That chapter is over, the old king from Ra’anana is dead, long live the king from Caesarea.
Otzma Yehudit Chairman and Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir told Reshet Bet radio on Thursday that the right thing to do, and the possible thing to do, would be to establish a right-wing government in this Knesset and that Gideon Saar can be a member if he accepted its fundamental principles. Are you kidding, Itamar? Saar wrote those principles. He has been a Likudnik since 2003, after serving as government secretary in 1999 during Netanyahu’s first stint as PM. Saar quit the Likud not because of ideological differences, but because Bibi is one of those political leaders who eat their young. Instead of grooming the gifted Saar to someday take over the Likud, Netanyahu did everything he could to block him, alongside another gifted politician, Zeev Elkin, who finally joined Saar in New Hope. Indeed, those six seats Likud had lost in the last elections (dropping from 36 to 30) were siphoned by New Hope, whose voters were anyone-but-Bibi Likudniks.
But then Ben-Gvir told Reshet Bet that it’s vitally important for the next government to be based on a true right-wing coalition “in deeds and not just in words.”
Tell that to the king. The thinking at the moment among politicians who are not Gafni or Smotrich is that Netanyahu is demanding the extra time before dispersing the Knesset strictly for show. He continues to dream of a 40-member strong Likud faction, packed with his yea-sayers. This is why, as Chairman of Likud, he insists on conducting the party primaries for both the election slate and the party chairmanship ASAP, preferably in July, while his influence is the most impactful following the demise of his enemies across the aisle.
Pure ideologues like Itamar Ben Gvir are Netanyahu’s nightmare. I won’t be surprised if the popular MK is given the Saar treatment over the next few months. Bibi is the one who made Ben Gvir by pressuring Smotrich to include him in his slate because Bibi knew Ben Gvir would be a great vote-getter. Now he would want him gone.