Netanyahu is not the problem this time - analysis

Calls for unity are a lovely sentiment and there is a time and place for them. But in this case, they’re based in a deep misunderstanding of the political reality, along with a disregard for voters.

May 28, 2019 03:37
4 minute read.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – the elections were all about him

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – the elections were all about him. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Some Blue and White Party members have been saying in recent days that if anyone else but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were leading the Likud, the country would not be going to another election this year, Blue and White and Likud would form a government together, and everything would be perfect.

“The public wants a national unity government,” Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid said in a faction meeting. “Netanyahu is an obstacle to a unity government. If someone else stands at the head of Likud – anyone except Netanyahu – we can form a national unity government [that is] functioning, without extortion, without extremists, without billions in political bribes.”
Blue and White MK Yoaz Hendel even approached Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz in the Knesset cafeteria on Monday evening and told him that if he joins their side, they’ll have a broad government “in two minutes.” Katz shot him down. In a tweet, Hendel expressed the same sentiment, but widened it to include Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein or MK Gideon Sa’ar as possible alternative Likud leaders.

Calls for unity are a lovely sentiment, and there is a time and place for them. But in this case, they’re based on a deep misunderstanding of the political reality, along with a disregard for voters and the democratic process.

First of all, Blue and White’s refusal to sit in a Netanyahu-led government is based on the potential corruption charges against him. But if that were the main issue in coalition talks, then we would already have a government. There’s already a majority on the Right willing to keep a coalition together even if Netanyahu is indicted, and that same majority is willing to vote in favor of expanding MK immunity. So while this is a matter of democratic values that should be part of a public discussion, it is not the reason that we may go to another election this year.

Then, there’s the idea that Blue and White and Likud could easily form a government together, if only Netanyahu were gone. Because Blue and White is not an ideological left-wing party but rather a mishmash of mostly centrists, some leftists and a smattering of the Right, some may think that the gaps between them and the Likud are easy to bridge.

But unity governments are not known either for their effectiveness or longevity. Lapid himself was part of a mixed right-center-left government after the 2013 election, so he may remember that it wasn’t quite as simple as he made it out to be on Monday.

The coalition parties were constantly at each other’s throats. In the end, Netanyahu couldn’t stand his dysfunctional government anymore and fired Lapid and Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni, calling an early election only two years after the last. And those issues happened before Netanyahu was under investigation. There’s no reason to think that a Likud led by Sa’ar, Edelstein or Katz would somehow be easier to deal with when it comes to other issues.

Next, there’s the will of the voters. How quickly people seem to have forgotten what happened in the April 9 election.

Blue and White ran on an anti-Netanyahu platform. Yes, they had a policy platform, but much of their campaign was focused on attacking the prime minister – just as much of the Likud campaign attacked Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. There haven’t been direct elections for prime minister in Israel since 2001, but this election was very focused on personalities. It was Benny or Bibi.

The Right lined up behind Netanyahu. Throughout the campaign season, every right-wing party that ended up passing the threshold committed to recommending Netanyahu, including Yisrael Beytenu that is now holding up coalition negotiations. Shas ads even featured the slogan “Bibi needs a strong Arye,” playing on party leader Deri’s first name, which means lion.

Therefore, it’s fair to say that the 65 Knesset seats for the Right were also very much 65 seats for Netanyahu, or at the very least, expected to line up behind Netanyahu.

It’s also worth pointing out that unlike Blue and White, Likud is a party with a democratic system for choosing both its leader and its list for the Knesset. Netanyahu may loom very large over the Likud and the Right in general, but unlike Gantz or Lapid, he is not self-appointed.

And while it is completely legitimate for Blue and White to focus on potential corruption charges against Netanyahu, a majority of voters supported parties that promised to recommend Netanyahu remain prime minister despite those accusations being made public before the election.

By what right do top members of the party that spent the past six months bashing Netanyahu and opposing the Likud get to decide who should lead the Right? How is that not a betrayal of the majority of voters who supported parties knowing that they would get Netanyahu?

As of Monday night, Yisrael Beytenu and the haredi parties are at an impasse over haredi enlistment in the IDF. There is a tiny bit of flexibility on the haredi side, but not nearly enough for Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is not budging at all. Of course, it would be easier if one of those sides could just be left outside the coalition, which would be possible in a Likud-Blue and White unity government.

But that just brings up a whole new crop of problems.

All this is to say that whatever Netanyahu’s pros and cons, it makes no sense to pretend that if he leaves, the entire coalition knot will be instantly untangled. Netanyahu is not the problem this time.

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