The mandate given by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government will expire at midnight on Tuesday. The last significant card Netanyahu drew ahead of the deadline was the waiver card. About a week ago, he made a public announcement saying he was ready to give up the prime minister’s post at the beginning of the term of a right-wing coalition government in favor of Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett – and he, Netanyahu, be second in the rotation.
“I told Bennett that I would be willing to accede to his request for a rotation agreement in which he would serve first as prime minister for one year,” was the message he delivered to Bennett and New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar.
It was not enough. Neither Bennett nor Netanyahu’s other right-wing rival Sa’ar took the offer. Bennett reminded Netanyahu that he was proposing to give away something he did not have: as long as the chairman of Religious Zionism, Bezalel Smotrich, refuses to join a government with the Islamist Ra’am party, there will be no right-wing government.
“I didn’t ask him for the prime minister’s job, but for a government – and unfortunately he does not have that to give, because Smotrich burned all the bridges,” Bennett said.
Sa’ar announced that his promise to his voters was to oust Netanyahu, so there was nothing to talk about his New Hope joining a government that would be headed by Netanyahu in a year.
“Even his one-year shift to the post of deputy prime minister is not what New Hope voters voted for,” Sa’ar said.
Netanyahu’s representatives put pressure on the senior religious Zionist spiritual leader, Rabbi Haim Drukman, to meet with Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas, in the hope that Drukman would later convince Smotrich to surrender and join a coalition supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’s partners in Israel. The pressure worked, and Drukman and Abbas met about two weeks ago. But despite the PM’s push, Rabbi Drukman decided that Religious Zionism would oppose any government that relied on Ra’am.
On Monday, after the attack at the Tapuach junction in which a yeshiva student was shot in the head by an Arab driver, Abbas condemned the attack, declaring that Ra’am is a party of “Peace and mutual security, partnership and tolerance between the two peoples. I unequivocally oppose any harm to innocent lives and call for the preservation of human life and the hope that we can live together in peace.”
That was a nice surprise, which was followed shortly by a tweet from Ra’am MK Walid Taha who declared: “We fully stand by our Palestinian people and condemn all acts of occupation and settlers against our people. Ra’am’s position supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
There you go, balance was restored.
It appears that Netanyahu’s battle is no longer to form a government but to thwart the transfer of the mandate to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. Netanyahu estimates that Lapid is capable of forming a government and so he, Netanyahu, has to make a dramatic decision: transfer the 52 MKs who support him to Naftali Bennett before midnight, allowing Bennett to seek to form a government under his leadership and receive the mandate from President Rivlin – essentially kicking Lapid in the knees.
But there may be other moves still open to the most experienced prime minister in Israel’s history. For instance, the bloc of Netanyahu’s opponents is preparing for what they fear most, that the Likud be able to bypass the need to get a committee’s approval for a bill for the direct election of a prime minister, ask the president to delay the awarding of the mandate to Lapid, who has the support of the opposition, and on Wednesday morning pass the law for direct election in the second and third readings, sending Israel to a fifth election, but only for prime minister.
The above move has “unrealistic” stamped all over it, but stranger things have happened in Israeli politics. Why, we remember when 32 left-wing MKs who happened to be present passed a constitutional law that launched the takeover of the system by the Supreme Court. So invalidating the votes of millions of Israelis is child’s -play in comparison.
The final move left to Netanyahu is to try to vacate his seat in favor of another Likud official, even if only for a limited period. MK Nir Barkat spoke about this, as was revealed on Monday by Ben Caspit in Ma’ariv (Report: Barkat Told Netanyahu’s Top Media Champions PM Must Be Replaced to save Right-Wing Rule), and there is a growing realization among Likud seniors (not only Barkat, Yuli Edelstein and Yisrael Katz, too) that in order to save the Likud-led government, Netanyahu must be ousted.
Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked spoke of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to sacrifice his position in favor of the Likud and the right-wing government, in amazing recordings revealed by Amit Segal on Channel 12: “He has a lust for power and authority. He and his wife. It’s like the dictators. Like dictators, they are not willing to move. We don’t have that.”
In the recordings, Shaked confirms that she prefers a partnership with Netanyahu, but she also makes it clear that she won’t block Bennett’s path to become prime minister should Netanyahu fail to form a government.
Her remarks also indicate that Netanyahu’s two most persistent enemies whose top goal is to evacuate the Netanyahu family from the Balfour residence are Gideon Sa’ar and Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman.
According to Shaked, Sa’ar and Liberman wholeheartedly believe that Netanyahu is dangerous to Israel. It is possible that a similar opinion is being formed within the Likud and that this is Netanyahu’s endgame.
Starting Tuesday at midnight, it could very well be that the Prime Minister who served longer than his predecessors, including the mythical David Ben-Gurion, would lose control over his political and personal destiny, and as of Wednesday would spend the last years of his career fighting for his personal freedom in court.