Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to speak at the Memorial Day ceremony at Mount Herzl this year, defying once again the protocol which says this event belongs to the Knesset. Two years ago, a major political storm ensued after Netanyahu announced his intention to speak at the same ceremony, which was met by strong opposition from then Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who threatened that the Knesset would boycott the event should his own party’s chairman insist on invading this territory. Traditionally, the PM doesn’t even sit on the bleachers at this event – only the Speaker of the House gives a speech, but it was on Israel’s 70th anniversary and Bibi ordered his Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev to get him the gig. In the end they reached a compromise: Bibi got to speak but cut it short.
And at PM Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, what was true of the House of Bourbon holds true today: they learn nothing and forget nothing. And they have a long memory for slights and acts of disobedience. And this week they collected: Yuli Edelstein will not be reinstated in his old post of Speaker of the Knesset.
Many in Israel’s politics believe Edelstein would be the natural heir to Netanyahu after the 5-term prime minister retires. Edelstein is eloquent, on good terms with almost everyone in the Knesset, and rich — he is married to Irina Nevzlin, the daughter of well-known Russian-Israeli billionaire Leonid Nevzlin — so he won’t be corrupt. In short: Edelstein is a threat to Netanyahu from inside his own base.
The world has been altered since then: the Likud has been unable to recapture its electoral power in three consecutive elections, succumbing to a unity government with its major foe, Blue&White Chairman Benny Gantz, who also happens to be the new Speaker of the Knesset, and he, it turns out, is not such a stickler for protocol and tradition: he’s letting Bibi speak for as long as he wishes at the Mt. Herzl commemoration, which will likely be viewed by millions of Israelis.
On his way out, ousted Speaker Yuli Edelstein starred in a constitutional battle with the High Court of Justice, over the court’s attempt to intervene in the way he ran the legislative branch. The court argued that Speaker Edelstein was wrong to delay his response to a demand by a slim majority of MKs to convene the plenum, while Speaker Edelstein argued that the Court should shut up and walk away because this was not its domain.
Netanyahu was the main beneficiary of Edelstein’s brave and noble final act – he resigned in protest, making it impossible for the high court to dictate anything to him, a kind of constitutional talk-to-the-hand.
As a result, the onslaught against Bibi was interrupted and he was able to maneuver Gantz and half of Blue&White to avoid the promised hostile legislation that had the potential of terminating the PM’s political career.
But gratitude and loyalty are not among Netanyahu’s strongest suits, which can be attested to by so many of his past allies: Avigdor Liberman, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Yoaz Handel and Zvika Hauser (to name a few). Which is why, when Benny Gantz and Blue&White voiced their initial objection to reinstating Edelstein, they were flabbergasted by how quickly Netanyahu surrendered.
A member of the Blue&White negotiating team told Israel Hayom: “Edelstein’s ouster from the Speaker’s post was the quickest win of Blue&White in the negotiations.”
Another source close to the negotiations told Israel Hayom: “It took Netanyahu seconds to give up Yuli Edelstein. A black cat passed between the two of them recently. It was felt that the demand of Blue&White to oust him worked for Netanyahu, so he didn’t fight for his seat.”
Mind you, this report comes from Israel Hayom, a newspaper that has been dedicated from it inception by billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson to the mission of supporting Netanyahu.
In former Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s circle they claim that all Netanyahu had to do was ask and Gantz would have capitulated. They don’t think he asked.