One of the most famous tropes of Charles M. Schulz’s classic comic strip “Peanuts” is when hapless protagonist Charlie Brown runs toward a football, and his frenemy Lucy pulls it away as he tries to kick it. Charlie Brown goes flying, screams “AAUGH!” and falls on the ground. Almost every autumn over 50 years of “Peanuts” comics and TV cartoons, Charlie Brown tells himself he knows better than to try again and he won’t be fooled by Lucy this time, but she always manages to pull him back in, and Charlie Brown lands flat on his back.
MK Isaac “Buji” Herzog (Zionist Union), still opposition leader, is the Knesset’s very own Charlie Brown, the mild-manered guy who just can’t get a break, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is his Lucy-esque tormentor, who’s always one step ahead of everyone else.
Think back to the last election campaign.
The Zionist Union and the Likud seemed to be neck-and-neck. Herzog was already imagining himself moving to Balfour Street in Jerusalem. He could feel himself sitting in the prime minister’s chair. He was sure he could put together a governing coalition.
Then came the last weekend of the campaign, when polls couldn’t be published.
Netanyahu went on a media blitz with interviews in dozens of outlets, and the Likud spammed Israelis with SMS ads.
And Herzog found himself flat on his back, with a victorious Netanyahu clutching the ball.
Netanyahu pulled the football away from Herzog again this week, with coalition negotiations.
Talks were kicked into high gear several weeks ago following reports that the corruption probe against Herzog would be closed.
On Tuesday, the negotiating teams seemed close to wrapping things up. They had major differences and points of dispute, but somehow found ways to work many of them out. Herzog was about to become foreign minister and was ready to reignite peace talks, with encouragement from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Unlike Lucy, however, Netanyahu was negotiating in good faith; he truly wanted to bring Herzog in and wasn’t just trying to manipulate him, a source close to the prime minister said on Thursday.
All Netanyahu wanted was to broaden the coalition so Likud MKs couldn’t blackmail him over their every whim; it didn’t matter who his new partner was.
Once Avigdor Liberman expressed willingness, however, it became clear that he was the easier option as there would be less strife within the coalition with right-wing Yisrael Beytenu than with Zionist Union. In Yisrael Beytenu, what Liberman says, goes, so there would be no internal party drama, unlike in the train wreck the Labor Party has become, with lawmakers bickering over whether to join the government or not, undermining Herzog at every turn, and MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit plotting his political demise.
So Netanyahu whisked away the football and tossed it to Liberman, winning politics and some schadenfreude, and Herzog screamed “AAUGH!” in the form of a speech slamming Yacimovich as a left-wing extremist and threatening to tear Netanyahu down.
“In every program, Charlie Brown, there are always a few last minute changes,” Lucy told Charlie Brown in 1974, in the “Peanuts” version of “the best-laid schemes of mice and men.”
(If you’re wondering where Liberman fits in the “Peanuts”-meets-politics world, he’s Snoopy; Snoopy always has an angle, he’s Joe Cool whether in the coalition or not, and he’s a World War I flying ace, a military expert – in his mind, at least.)