Kan 11 News on Monday morning cited senior Likud figures who said Netanyahu had given up on the possibility of persuading Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich to join a government with the help of abstentions of Mansour Abbas’s party Ra’am. The idea was that a Netanyahu-led government with only 59 members (including Smotrich’s 6 and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett’s 7) would survive a no-confidence vote because the opposition would be 4 votes shy of a majority. However, by now Netanyahu has become convinced that Smotrich had no intention of changing his mind.
Maariv reported on Monday on an internal survey that was ordered recently by Religious Zionism, asking party supporters whether they would prefer to form a government that leans on Ra’am’s abstentions or go to a fifth election. Slightly more than 50% of respondents said they would prefer the Ra’am option over new elections.
Maariv also reported on a similar survey that was conducted for the Ra’am party among its voters when Abbas was in talks with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. Abbas wanted to know how his voters felt about potential cooperation with the Likud and Netanyahu. The results showed that close to 90% of those surveyed responded that they trusted Abbas to make the right decision and would support him whichever way he goes.
There is no joy in Likudville these days with Bibi at the bat. How bad is it? The party was going to hold a conference Monday night at the International Convention Center (that’s Binyanei Ha’Uma in Jerusalem to you and me), and invitations had already been sent to party ministers, MKs, and party leaders around the country, dedicated to “Summing up the election and raising a glass in honor of Independence Day,” and then, shortly after those invitations had been distributed, a message came out from the party headquarters that the conference was canceled and no new date was given.
Likud officials told Maariv that there were rumors that Netanyahu would use the conference to promote his idea of a merger with Yamina—at the expense of at least 7 Likud members senior enough to make it into the party’s top 30 slate. As soon as the word was out, it became clear that the evening could turn into Likud’s first popular eruption against the leader – very common in the 1980s and ’90s, but almost not heard of these days. Yes, today’s tightly-controlled Likud used to be a sassy, hyper-democratic party. In the end, the party bosses concluded that for the time being, the damage from the conference could outweigh its benefits, so the event was canceled.
The strongly pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom on Monday pointed its finger at Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. The paper cited Likud officials who argued that “If Naftali Bennett really wanted to form a right-wing government, he would have announced that it was either a right-wing government or a fifth election. Then all the pressure would have been transferred to Sa’ar, Benny Gantz, or other people. But when Bennett leaves an opening, as he did in his meeting with Netanyahu, that if Netanyahu fails to form a government, he, Bennett would go with the other side, it gives them hope that there’s an alternative. Bennett not only isn’t helping to form a government, but he is also trying to thwart the formation of a right-wing government.”
Of course, Israel Hayom largely ignores the third option, namely that once Netanyahu has returned his mandate to the president, the Knesset could pick a different Likud MK to try and cobble together a coalition government, and this time both Bennett and Sa’ar would happily jump in and overnight there would be a solid, 65-member coalition. Several Likud seniors have already let it be known—indirectly, of course—that they would gladly pick up the challenge if persuaded ever so gently: self-made hi-tech millionaire and former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; husband of billionaire’s daughter and quite popular Health Minister Yuli Edelstein; and aggressive but also relatively popular Finance Minister Israel Katz.
With that practical option not even in consideration, Israel Hayom has enough fingers left to point at the other non-Haredi culprit, the ungrateful Bezalel Smotrich. On Monday, the paper lamented: “The ultra-religious-religious party received from Netanyahu a reserved MK in a real slot on the Likud list, in exchange for its commitment to support Netanyahu, and everywhere he was campaigning Netanyahu called for people to vote Religious Zionism. He even risked his old alliance with United Torah Judaism and quarreled with [UTJ chairman Moshe] Gafni, who is still convinced that without Bibi’s call to the religious public that ‘voting Smotrich is okay, too,’ UTJ would have extended to 8 seats instead of its current 7.”
And what is Bibi asking for in return? Only that Smotrich reverse his doctrine, developed and honed over two decades of political action, that Arabs who won’t recognize Israel’s right to be a Jewish state should be encouraged to find their happiness elsewhere. Such an ungrateful lad.
Israel Hayom says the parties led by Smotrich, Bennett, and Sa’ar were well aware that Netanyahu would likely be forced to rely on Ra’am to forge his new government, but all three have turned out to be “the most stubborn nuts to crack.”
“Come the fifth election, it is doubtful whether they will survive,” Netanyahu’s hyper-supportive daily finds some comfort in wishful thinking, adding, “But they refuse to return the seats they received thanks to Netanyahu to the man who actually handed over those seats to them.”
How did author Katerina Stoykova Klemer put it? “Everybody deserves love, but nobody is entitled to it.” And this goes double in politics.