Radio host and Maariv chief political correspondent Ben Caspit on Monday reported that former Jerusalem Mayor, Likud senior MK Nir Barkat, met last Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two major media supporters, Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth and IDF radio host Yaakov Bardugo, to stress the need to immediately replace Netanyahu in order to “save the rule of the right.” (ברקת הציג לביסמוט וברדוגו את הצורך החיוני להזיז את נתניהו כדי להציל את שלטון הימין)
Barkat, according to the sources Caspit is citing, which include senior Likud figures, claimed that if Netanyahu does not move aside to be replaced by one of the Likud’s senior leaders—of whom Barkat, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, and Finance minister Israel Katz are the prominent candidates—the path to the formation of a left-wing government would be short, creating a “cry for generations” and a “historic failure.”
To remind you, the last time right-wing parties were unable to reach a compromise for cooperation was in 1992, which resulted in an Arab-backed Labor government that came up with the hallucinatory Oslo Accords.
According to Caspit, one of the Likud seniors’ plans is to create a situation in which Netanyahu remains the Likud chairman but not its candidate for prime minister, to facilitate a 65-member, purely right-wing coalition with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party. The operation itself was planned for the 21-day period after President Reuven Rivlin returned the mandate to the Knesset, should both Netanyahu and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid fail in their efforts.
This plot to unseat him from within, argues Caspit, is the reason why Netanyahu has revved up his operation and why he has been putting the pressure on Religious Zionism rabbis, including Noam leader Rabbi Zvi Thau and the most respected spiritual leader of the sector, Rabbi Haim Drukman, to help him make the argument that his relying on Israel’s offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood would be a sensible move.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s pick for his albeit temporary successor is his sworn rival, Naftali Bennett, whom Caspit suggest has been rounding the stadium since election day, leveraging his secret deals with Netanyahu against Lapid and, more recently, leveraging Lapid’s offer to make him the prime minister of a left-wing government against Netanyahu.
Part of the deal Netanyahu is weaving behind his party seniors’ back is the integration of Bennett’s Yamina into Likud, guaranteeing all seven MKs a realistic slot on Likud’s slate for the 25th Knesset. This means the Bibi is willing to cut short the political career of seven Likud MKs in exchange for maintaining his hold on the government. In this scheme, Bennett serves the first year (possibly the first two years) as prime minister and then hands over the reins to Netanyahu. To support his view that this may be what’s coming down the pike, Caspit cites reports that Ayelet Shaked, Bennett’s life-long political partner, has been spending much of her quality hours over on the patio of the PM’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. And by the patio, he means having tea and rugalach with Sara Netanyahu and her son Yair, who weren’t always Ayelet’s best friends, but politics makes for unexpected romances.
Should it turn out that Bennett et al have taken a ride on the left-wing parties’ backs just to add value to their eventual partnership with Netanyahu, things won’t be pretty for Yair Lapid. Already the sound of gnashing teeth is in the air, as one left-wing politician told Caspit: “If indeed Bennett does end up in a deal with Netanyahu, this would be the most spectacular and cynical turn a politician in Israel has made over his potential partners. Lapid, and not just Lapid, believed in Bennett, and in the end, the whole move was a blank shot.”
Incidentally, as a Yamina voter for the past two elections, I must confess that seeing Bennett being so spectacularly cynical gives me a lot of pleasure. For once, my vote is not wasted on ideologues who can’t scrape 100 votes together and end up going down in a fiery storm. I prefer my leaders to be strong and pure of heart, but spectacularly cynical also works for me.