(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Political commentators were having déjà vu Sunday morning, and for a brief moment it seemed like we might have an election soon – until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the kibosh on the idea.
As the Knesset geared up for a final vote on the much-disputed police recommendations bill, the situation seemed more and more like the votes on another ultra-controversial bill in 2014 – the Israel Hayom bill.
That legislation would have outlawed the dissemination of free, daily newspapers and, just like the police recommendations bill, was viewed as a personal piece of legislation to help Netanyahu avoid an indictment, or at least more damaging leaks to the press. The Israel Hayom
bill was also personally targeted at Netanyahu, but with the opposite aim – to hurt him by shutting down the newspaper owned by his ally, Sheldon Adelson, which gives him overwhelmingly positive coverage.
In that case, Netanyahu's Likud party supported the bill, while more and more coalition members began distancing themselves from it. Then, Netanyahu vehemently opposed the proposal, while more and more members of his previous coalition supported it – so much so that it even passed a preliminary reading.
Netanyahu later admitted that one of the reasons he called the 2015 election, less than two years after the previous one, was to stop the Israel Hayom
But this time, as the prospects of the police recommendations bill grew bleaker throughout the day, Netanyahu didn’t pull the trigger. This time, he backed down.
“I asked… to make sure the bill will be worded so that it doesn’t apply to the investigation of my matters,” Netanyahu wrote.
And that’s how, in a 166-word Facebook post
, Netanyahu cooled down the political atmosphere.
Yes, the recommendations bill is still going to a vote and the opposition is still fired up and hasn’t withdrawn its more than 500 objections to the legislation – but now the coalition can relax a little longer.
By changing the bill, Netanyahu is saying this isn’t the hill he’s going to die on. Keeping this government together – which he wrote, “Brings unprecedented achievements in security, economics, society and the diplomatic arena” – is more important than keeping the police from making recommendations to indict that the attorney-general doesn’t have to heed anyway.
It also seems that Netanyahu finally understood that there are some things even his supporters see as fishy – like a bill that impacts a very narrow subsection of people, such as public officials under investigation, which includes the prime minister himself.
At the same time, Netanyahu played up the “us-versus-them” rhetoric that has served him well in many political situations.
“Anyway, it’s clear to everyone that the police recommendations about me are meaningless,” he wrote. “It looks like they were decided at the start of the investigation, leaked throughout and didn’t change despite the clear facts that are presented time and again, which prove there was nothing.”
But the “them” is not Kulanu, or even Bayit Yehudi, whose ministers started grumbling in recent days that the bill is problematic. It’s outside the coalition.
Netanyahu has said repeatedly in recent months that he’d like this government to live out its days, and this is the second time in as many weeks that Netanyahu showed he’ll do what he can to keep the coalition together when he had opportunities to call an election. First, he reached a compromise with the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties about public violations of the Sabbath
when he could have come out and started strong in an election campaign right after standing up to them. And now, Netanyahu gave up on a bill meant to protect him.
It seems clear, once again, that Netanyahu really wants this government to last as long as possible.