Analysis: Why Bibi backed down

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisers were asked in the Knesset cafeteria on Monday whether they had sent flowers to the police.

Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisers were asked in the Knesset cafeteria on Monday whether they had sent flowers to the police.
Coalition chairman David Bitan after being questioned by police in suspicion of corruption while serving as Mayor of Rishon Lezion, December 3, 2017. (Avshalom Shoshani)
When they asked why, the advisers’ interlocutors responded that by their questioning of coalition chairman David Bitan for 14 hours on Sunday, Netanyahu was finally free of the poor advice he had been receiving for way too long.
Instead of listening to Bitan and his ally David Amsalem and continuing to push the controversial police recommendations bill, Netanyahu finally backed down and insisted that the legislation be changed so that it will clearly not apply to his criminal probes.
Netanyahu’s advisers responded that the decision had actually been in the works for a week, long before Bitan was detained. So to whom should those flowers be sent? As usual, when there is credit to be had, all the possible bearers of the credit show up, just as, when there is blame to be assigned, all those set to receive it tend to flee and hide.
Those claiming credit this time include Bitan’s predecessors as coalition chairman, Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin. The two current ministers have returned to Netanyahu’s ear in recent weeks, helping solve a crisis with United Torah Judaism and now perhaps pushing him to drop the unpopular legislation.
But Netanyahu’s advisers said Elkin and Levin had also come into the picture too late to make a real impact.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon also let it be known that they had called Netanyahu and begged him to back down. Bennett’s associates said he sent his political ally Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to criticize the bill.
But Kahlon had also defended the bill on many news outlets before that. It is unlikely that his attempt to declare victory for a game he was on the wrong side of will convince anyone. And Bennett stayed on the sidelines throughout the controversy, refusing to take a side until the winner was declared. So he can hardly claim to have played the game.
There were also those who said Netanyahu changed his mind because of pressure from the Left or the Right. The Left organized an anticorruption protest of some 30,000 people in Tel Aviv. Right-wing columnists started warning Netanyahu that the bill was bad for the Right.
This credit-claiming Netanyahu’s advisers were quickest to reject. They said the prime minister “couldn’t care less that 30,000 leftists who hate him strolled through Tel Aviv on a pleasant evening.” And the Right claiming credit caused the advisers to laugh.
There were those who gave credit to the pollsters. The poll in Friday’s Jerusalem Post that indicated a tie between Likud and Yesh Atid could have made an impact, as could have the Israel Radio survey that predicted six seats for the anticorruption party Eretz Hadasha, led by protest organizer Eldad Yaniv. Such polls could indeed persuade Netanyahu that it is best to distance the next election.
A survey taken by pollster Mano Geva that predicted the Likud would win 24 seats, Yesh Atid 22 and the Zionist Union 18 – findings that were broadcast on Channel 2 on Sunday – was not so bad for Netanyahu. It found that a comfortable margin of respondents sees Netanyahu more fit to be prime minister than opposition party heads Yair Lapid and Avi Gabbay.
But, at least according to Netanyahu’s advisers, all of those polls were taken after the decision had already been made.
Lapid tried to grab the credit as well, saying that the prime minister had yielded due to his parliamentary maneuvers like rushing back an MK from Guatemala who had been paired off with an MK from the coalition who was also abroad. He told his Yesh Atid faction that they had proven that “it is possible to defeat corruption and fear-mongering.”
Needless to say, Netanyahu’s advisers do not think it was the opposition’s filibuster that should be credited with the prime minister’s change of heart.
So if it was not the police, Elkin, Levin, Kahlon, Bennett, the anticorruption protest, the right-wing columnists, the polls, fear of elections, or parliamentary tricks, then who gets the flowers? Being good advisers, they would say Netanyahu himself. He decided the bill would not help him at all, because the police have already made their recommendation against him clear through leaking key information from the investigations.
The prime minister, they say, will keep on fighting to clear his name. And on that real battle, he will not back down.