The two most important speeches given Tuesday night referred to each other, their subtexts dancing a hesitant, socially distanced tango.
Naftali Bennett led. He didn’t talk about a “full” right-wing government, annexation, the Temple Mount or the Torah.
In fact, out of the ambiguity of the Yamina party chairman’s words came very clear messages: “This is the time to unify the rifts in the nation … to repair, not dismantle, the justice system … to go from baseless hatred to baseless love. True right-wingers do not hate, they unify.” And so on.
After announcing at the start of the election campaign that he ruled no one out, and later ran amok doing just that, in wholesale quantities, Bennett ruled out, with those words, the fondest dream of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: a coalition whose list of a minimum of 61 members ends with gentlemen such as the Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir and Avi Maoz of the despicable Noam party.
Netanyahu listened closely and then directed his words straight at the one he loathes. After spreading boastful embellishments and numerical lies, the Likud chairman spoke of a “stable government.” (Ben-Gvir and Maoz are the last people on whom to build a “stable government.”)
Unlike previous elections, he too did not mention annexation, but he raised the banner of the Abraham Accords and the promise of additional peace treaties.
The message was clear: Naftali, come with me and together we’ll hunt for defectors from Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, or persuade Benny Gantz to join once more a (relatively) balanced and sane government, instead of the blood wedding planned for us by the dangerous fanatics from the hilltops.
Bennett ended the night of exit-poll results as a tiebreaker and a kingmaker, only to discover United Arab List Chairman Mansour Abbas replacing him when the real results came in. Then the Balfour Street craziness reached its height, with conflicting Likud messages as to the legitimacy of UAL. More on this below.
The story of this election in a nutshell is:
Likud lost ground with Jewish voters and gained with Arab voters. The reasons for the strengthening of “Abu Yair” among Arabs: a steep decline in voter turnout in that community; the shrinking of the combined representation of its parties (from 15 to 10 Knesset seats) and the absence of a surplus votes agreement between the Joint List and the UAL, the disastrous outcome of their dispute. Only by the grace of Allah did the Joint List not lose a Knesset seat to Likud at the last moment.
The other side, including (for now) Bennett, is trying to come up with options based on Netanyahu not reaching 61 seats.
They look a lot like the scenarios that were in play after the March 2020 election: preventing the president from tapping Netanyahu first to form the next government; electing the Knesset speaker; handing out Knesset committee jobs and – the doomsday weapon – passing a law preventing criminal defendants from forming a government, to take effect after the next election. That would rob of its power the threat of a fifth election by Netanyahu and create a path toward establishing a different government. This would be a bill of attainder, a law aimed at a single person. That is not ideal, but because it couldn’t be applied retroactively the High Court of Justice will not strike it down.
Still, why is this election different from all other elections?
1. The “pro-change” camp includes two right-wing parties.
2. Netanyahu, with his own two hands, paved the way for a government based on votes (or abstentions) by Arab MKs.
3. Avigdor Lieberman is no longer in glorious isolation, as the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu was after last year’s election, when he joined the late “cockpit” of Kahol Lavan as a pivot and seasoned political mentor. Together with him are two political foxes, artists of coalition-building, Gideon Sa’ar and Ze’ev Elkin. There’s no resemblance between this trio and the erstwhile Kahol Lavan quartet.
They won’t be tricked, tempted by false promises or blinded by flattery and foot-dragging. They know how to be creative, to stand before the master sorcerer Netanyahu, to thwart him, stop him, get there before him, fight on the beaches, wage war by sea, air and in the closed rooms. And maybe, just maybe, they can do something.
Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 MKs, and if Bennett joins the other side the Haredim are expected to follow.
Shas Chairman Arye Dery won’t take the first step, but the Ashkenazi Haredi leadership is more than ready psychologically. “If there isn’t a bloc of 61, we’ll be practical,” Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said. His eyes said it all. It was a terrible year for the relationship between Netanyahu, Gafni and UTJ head Yaakov Litzman.
The final screeching crescendo in upsetting the alliance was Netanyahu’s efforts to move votes from the Haredi to the Haredi Zionist camp. If that happens, it might actually be Lieberman who finds himself outside the government he had hoped for, or he will have to swallow a bitter (kosher) pill.
The bloodcurdling term “fifth election” was said for the first time by Netanyahu at the Tel Aviv Fairground.
From the moment he placed this pistol in his speech, it was clear his calculations are very probably leading to that, and it’s never too early to begin the blame game. In any case, his camp doesn’t realize he was the one who dragged us into the fourth election – cynically, breaking every rule and norm, and every agreement, or simply any rational mode of conduct and true concern for the state’s future.
He hoodwinks them with superpowers. He creates the false impression that he’s not the one responsible for the worst democratic crisis since the establishment of the state. This has been the case ever since his legal entanglements began, and to paraphrase a hackneyed phrase used by many politicians:
“With Bibi, elections are already an obsession, not an option.”
Crash with consolation
Netanyahu wasted no time. At dawn his aides contacted party heads or their aides, with one message: There’s something to talk about. Nathan Eshel, the most loyal of emissaries (but not only he) called a senior figure in New Hope. He proposed launching constructive discourse. The message was passed on to Sa’ar, who rejected it out of hand. Not by chance was
Sa’ar the first to respond to the (very disappointing, for him) election results, about an hour after polls closed. And not by chance did he confirm his main election pledge: We will not join a government led by Netanyahu. Sa’ar wants make clear to all the relevant players that there is no change in his position.
The clumsy courtship of Sa’ar was grotesque. And who personifies this term better than Army Radio commentator Jacob Bardugo. The day after the election he reported, sounding slightly pressured, that the idea of making Sa’ar justice minister in Netanyahu’s government and giving him free reign to reform the justice system has not been ruled out.
New Hope only won six Knesset seats. But at least 2.5 of them, about 100,000 voters, skipped over to him from Likud. Thanks to them, Netanyahu lacks a majority for his nightmare coalition: racist, messianic, benighted, homophobic, reeking of neo-Kahanism.
It seems Sa’ar is personally enjoying every Likud supporter who voted for him. That is his consolation, his satisfaction, despite his crash.
On Thursday afternoon, right after the final results were announced, he called for a government of change, stating: “As I said on [Tuesday] night, ego is not a consideration.” The early assumption has become a quite clear declaration. Sa’ar will not insist on a rotation of the premiership.
Netanyahu was weakened in almost every voter group, including in Likud strongholds like Eilat. In March 2020, Likud took 50 percent of the vote. This week it was only 42.3 percent. Sa’ar received 7.5 percent there – the exact difference. A similar phenomenon was seen in other Likud cities: In Ma’aleh Adumim, a Likud empire that enriched the Knesset with the likes of David Amsalem and Osnat Mark (who just lost her Knesset seat), Sa’ar took 6.5 percent of the vote – these were previously Likud votes.
About 300,000 fewer people voted Likud than one year ago. This was the result that Netanyahu called a huge achievement Tuesday. His party lost almost 20 percent of its strength. Six Knesset seats. Despite the vaccination drive, the appeal to Arab voters, four peace treaties, the sleepiness of the center-left and the dismantling of the Kahol Lavan centrist alternative, which had forced an egalitarian government on him, and apparently will remain stuck in his throat until the establishment of a government.
The Arab vote
The dispute over the partnership with UAL chief Abbas is splitting Likud. It’s blowing up on WhatsApp groups, where there’s a clear majority against the partnership, even among Likud officials.
Tzachi Hanegbi and David Bitan haven’t ruled it out. Miki Zohar and Shlomo Karhi are against it. Disagreements! Unbelievable that a new dawn of pluralistic opinions and positions is breaking, ashamed of and disconnected from the reality we knew, the Bibistan party.
By the way, Zohar flipped from anti- to pro- within hours. The former was his true opinion, what his boss had declared during the campaign. He was forced to recant after a scolding from Balfour. Zohar and Karhi were sent back into the unwilling isolation of the past three months, together with Amsalem, Mark, May Golan (the intended “minister of immigration”) and others.
But the opposition in Likud is not the main obstacle to parliamentary cooperation with UAL and a coalition supported by the party from outside.
Netanyahu has partners, the heads of a racist religious list calling itself Religious Zionism: Smotrich, Ben-Gvir and Maoz. The first two have been earmarked for cabinet positions. The scenario in which they take their pledges of office thanks to the abstention of Islamist Arab MKs is not realistic. They are not pragmatic (excuse me, instrumental, and with alien interests), like Netanyahu.
In light of the promising era on the horizon in Arab-right-wing relations, Smotrich was called urgently Thursday to cool the new-age enthusiasm that has spread through certain circles in Likud – like mouthpieces (such as the elitist Shimon Riklis and frightened sycophants (like state’s witness Shlomo Filber). “A right-wing government will not be established here with the support of Abbas,” announced the racist who couldn’t stand the thought of his God-fearing wife sharing a maternity-ward room with an Arab woman. “Get that out of your head. Not from the inside, not from the outside and not by abstention.” One can understand him: What goes for the obstetrics department goes for the government.
No less preposterous is the thought that UAL would allow this. Abbas may have crossed the Rubicon, but his supporters would be very angry with him and that could end badly. The Arab community is a tough audience.
Abbas has shown himself to be a sophisticated politician, no less than Ahmad Tibi. Even when all the exit polls predicted a defeat for his party, Abbas kept his cool. He had different numbers, and they turned out to be more reliable. He set aside the ideology that to him Is marginal. He scorns the slogans of his erstwhile partners. Philosophical expressions like the “democratic space” that Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh often uses, don’t move him. He is interested in other, more down-to-earth spaces.
His game is transparent on the one hand, genius on the other. As long as he flirts publicly with the No. 1 instigator against generations of Arab Israelis, he raises the price.
He’s neither naive nor a romantic.
Abbas recalls Lieberman after the 2009 election. He conducted parallel talks with Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni’s Kadima. He sent identical demands to both and extricated various papers and promises. In the end, he did what was expected and logical: He went with Netanyahu to a right-wing Haredi government (with Ehud Barak, who jumped in at the last minute).
The game being played out before our eyes in an innovative kind of poker, played with cards on the table.
Netanyahu is trying to establish a government with the votes of the UAL while “prohibiting” the camp for change from doing the same thing. He’s a patriot, they’re traitors. What he can do, they cannot.
When there was a danger that Gantz and Yair Lapid would do it, he had himself filmed, wearing a black tie, and warning of an “existential, immediate danger to the security of the state.”
And who even remembers the virtual pamphlets of his potty-mouthed son Yair on the residence floor at Balfour, who made sure to emphasize UAL’s closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. That’s ancient history.
Now Dad is doing business with Hamas, and the most important thing of all is to evade justice and Wing 10 in Ma’asiyahu Prison.
Source: Yossi Verter – HAARETZ