Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, February 9, 2020.

On Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit submitted his response to the High Court of Justice regarding petitions seeking to prevent Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu from being assigned the role of cobbling together the next coalition government, as well as petitions demanding the cancellation of the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue&White.

On Sunday, the High Court will convene a panel of 11 judges to decide Netanyahu’s fate. The mandate President Rivlin has given the Knesset to put together a new coalition government will expire on Thursday, following which the Knesset will disperse and new elections will be declared, or pass a vote of confidence in Netanyahu’s new government.

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Provided that the court embraces the AG’s view that despite the significant difficulties that are raised by the issues in question, these do not justify judicial intervention, because it would mean that a majority MKs would be prevented from attempting to establish a new government in Israel under MK Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, arguably the most skilled politician in Israel’s 72 years of history, has maneuvered the entire state system to reach this point: friends, enemies, opposition leaders, supreme court justices, the AG, the State Prosecutor, his own Justice Minister, the media. If he wishes, he can call to the podium his 36-ministers- 16-deputy ministers-strong cabinet representing roughly 75 MKs, and, utilizing a string of innovative new laws—what Mandelblit referred to as “significant difficulties,” because they include strange constitutional creatures such as two concurrently serving prime ministers, and there’s a lot more—he can become prime minister for the next 18 months. He will then step down and bow to Benny Gantz’s leadership as the next PM, as per their rotation agreement (yet another “significant difficulty”).

Israeli pundits and savvy politicians are beginning to expect Bibi to do something entirely different: a May surprise, if you will.

Once he is cleared by the High Court to run for office despite his three criminal indictments (which is the law, as long as he is not convicted), Netanyahu no longer has use for Benny Gantz and most of his Blue&White party, who are the measly remnants of the 30+ party that gave Bibi the knockout punch just before Purim. He has already lured to the Likud ranks enough deserters from the left to be able to dump the Blue&White deal, which is terribly costly, and announce another narrow-majority government based on the 58-strong rightwing bloc plus the opposition parties’ traitors.

Female and male ligers / Hkandy via Wikimedia

Here’s the indication Bibi is going to pull a fast one on Gantz et al: as I explained, the new government deal requires several new laws to facilitate this liger (a hybrid offspring of a male lion and a female tiger). By the time the Knesset mandate expires, those bills must be approved through a three-stage process: initial plenum vote, committee hearings and amendments, and a third and final plenum vote.

On Thursday, the Knesset plenum passed the initial bill, amending the Basic Law: Government, with a 72-vote majority. But Netanyahu, who came down to vote for it, does not appear engaged in making it happen. He appears to be dragging his feet. Mind you, the essence of the new legislation is rooted in Blue&White’s fear of Bibi’s pulling a fast one on Gantz in 18 months. It’s all about preserving the PM’s new partners’ rights. So why should he be committed to making it stick, when he could turn around and get himself a full blown, 4-year reign for less money?

Netanyahu is definitely not calling on his party members and right-wing bloc partners to pass the bill before the High Court clears him for running. And then it would certainly be in the best interest of Yamina, Shas and UTJ to change course, along with their small band of newcomers: Gabi Ashkenazi, Amir Peretz, Orly Levy-Abekasis, Yoaz Handel and Zvika Hauser.

It’s a sinking sensation in many pundits’ pit of the stomach: this circus has not left town yet. There’s one more big act coming, at center stage.

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