It was a historic picture captured in a hotel room by an aide of Mansour Abbas: the key moment when the majority for a government that may replace Benjamin Netanyahu – though still not for sure – was achieved. But it was actually much more than that. It was the first time since Israel’s birth that an Arab Israeli party had signed an agreement to be part of an Israeli government.
But it wasn’t just Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List party and mosque lay preacher, smiling with satisfaction just after signing the document. It wasn’t just Yair Lapid, the centrist architect of the new government who had engineered the moment. It was also Naftali Bennett, the man who still aspires to lead Israel’s nationalist right wing, smiling a bit shyly between them.
The man who made it all possible wasn’t there.
Netanyahu created this moment twice – once when he attacked Bennett one too many times in the last election campaign, forcing the Yamina leader to realize that he would never achieve his dream of making peace with the mentor he once so admired.
Bennett was just the last of many of Netanyahu’s former proteges who have become his implacable enemies, but he was necessary to complete the majority for this new coalition.
The second time Netanyahu created this moment was when he negotiated with Abbas after the March election in the hope that the United Arab List leader would support his own new government.
Netanyahu, who had done so much to incite Jews against Arabs for his own political gain, had then in his own cynical way legitimized including Abbas’ party in a coalition with right-wing parties.
Netanyahu failed because at the same time, in the last election, he ensured that the Jewish supremacist Religious Zionism alliance, with its neo-Kahanist members, would cross the threshold and become a force to be reckoned with in his potential coalition.
But they would never join a government with Arabs. Bennett and the other right-wingers in the new government can. And they have Netanyahu to thank for bringing them all together.
But even after they’ve reached this milestone, Netanyahu isn’t going to give up.
They still have to pass a confidence vote before the new government can be sworn in, and in the days before the vote can take place, Netanyahu will intensify the pressure, using protesters on the street, slime merchants on social media and every rabbi prepared to issue blessings and curses for him to sway the wavering legislators of Bennett’s party.
Bennett is to be prime minister for two years if this government is ever sworn in, but of the eight parties in the coalition, his own is most at risk of falling apart before that happens.
He needs to do everything in his power to keep that from happening because having come so far and burning every bridge with Netanyahu and his supporters, the only way he can save his political career is by becoming prime minister and doing at least a decent job of it.
He has gambled every last bit of his political capital.
And so has Abbas. He won four seats in the Knesset, taking them away from the Joint List, thanks to Arab Israeli voters who were prepared to believe that he could deliver tangible gains for their community – in funding, infrastructure and most crucially, in gaining retroactive building permits for tens of thousands of structures built illegally and now facing demolition. Abbas needs this government to succeed, or when the next election is held – pretty soon if this government fails – he’ll be wiped out by disappointed voters.
The only one in the picture who is certainly a winner tonight is Yair Lapid.
Even if this government is sworn in, its chances of survival by August 27, 2023, when Lapid is scheduled under the rotation agreement to replace Bennett as prime minister, are tenuous at best. But even if that doesn’t happen, Lapid will win handsomely in the next election, as many voters who were too skeptical to vote for him in the past now see him as a potential prime minister and even better, the architect of what could be the final victory over Netanyahu.
Until the government is sworn in, Netanyahu remains its biggest enemy. He will pull out all the stops to deny its majority. But if Bennett can somehow keep his party together, long enough to get his feet under the prime minister’s desk, long enough for the moving van to leave the residence on Balfour Street, things could get a bit easier, despite the disparate makeup of the government he’ll then lead.
The only thing keeping the eight parties of the new coalition together is their burning desire to replace Netanyahu.
But if they succeed it won’t be mission accomplished yet because Netanyahu isn’t going anywhere.
As the new opposition leader, he will constantly be plotting the new government’s downfall and planning his comeback. And that could bolster the coalition’s sense of purpose to remain for a while and help its members overcome their inevitable differences.
This government would never be on the brink of an inauguration if it weren’t for Netanyahu.
He’s now the biggest threat to it reaching the finish line in the confidence vote, but if it crosses the line, Netanyahu could also become its greatest asset in keeping it together for longer than most are now willing to predict.
Source: Anshel Pfeffer – HAAARETZ