A wizard he was

After receiving the vote of every fourth Israeli who cast a ballot, Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be unstoppable.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
May 8, 2015 16:01
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony honoring World War II veterans

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony honoring World War II veterans and marking the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. (photo credit: REUTERS)

When Benjamin Netanyahu won the March 17 election by a landslide, he was on cloud nine.

After receiving the vote of every fourth Israeli who cast a ballot, he appeared to be unstoppable. It seemed the next Knesset election could already be canceled, because Netanyahu was so unbeatable. He had returned to being the “King Bibi” Time magazine crowned him in 2012.

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In a prediction that looks painful in retrospect, Netanyahu even said at the time that he would form a government within “two or three weeks.”

Fifty-two long days later, Netanyahu is hobbling to the finish line of a coalition-building process that has left him battered and bruised.

It started with Kulanu, which compromised on nothing during coalition talks, receiving literally everything it demanded.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon reportedly was briefed by MK Avigdor Liberman that his Yisrael Beytenu party would not be joining the coalition, which emboldened him in the negotiations.

Kahlon’s refusal to compromise on receiving the Interior Ministry’s now infamous planning directorate led to Shas asking to be compensated with the Religious Affairs Ministry. That left Bayit Yehudi, which had demanded the ministry, seeking its own compensation, which it could demand and receive when Liberman made his refusal to join the government public.

The 61 MK-coalition Netanyahu managed to cobble together will be extremely difficult to govern. It will be subject to the whims of every backbencher in every coalition party, who could topple the government at any given point.

Then again, no one wants to be the one MK who toppled the government and initiated an election. The coalition is also much more homogeneous than others have been, which could give it surprising staying power.

“An ideologically united coalition of 61 is better than the previous coalition that was paralyzed by its differences,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Nir Hefetz told Israel Radio.

But even if the government lasts longer than expected, it will not erase the bitter irony that the election was initiated due to Netanyahu’s inability to govern and his expectation that the results of the race would make it easier.

“A government cannot be run this way,” Netanyahu said in December. “A state cannot be led this way.”

Even with 30 seats, it seems the prime minister – who was once seen as a political wizard – can no longer cast a spell.

It is hard to think of a rabbit that can still be in his hat.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, and Liberman have adamantly refused to join the government.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu has been eulogized before. Watching the prime minister’s effort to get out of his current hole and climb back to cloud nine could make the next months ahead in Israeli politics especially entertaining.


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