Bennett’s dream come true staves off Netanyahu’s nightmare - analysis

The precarious political situation – both Bennett and Shaked’s specifically, and the broader political context – is the other thing that make the agreement of dubious value to them.

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November 10, 2019 10:18
4 minute read.
Naftali Bennett at a ceremony at the education ministry

Naftali Bennett at a ceremony at the education ministry. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously detests New Right co-leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, but there’s something he dislikes more than them: not being prime minister.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that as soon as there were whispers about the pair talking to Blue and White, Netanyahu made sure to lock them down by giving Bennett what he has always wanted since the start of his political career, which is the defense portfolio.

In return, the New Right and Likud factions in the Knesset merged, meaning that the Likud is now the largest faction with 35 seats as opposed to Blue and White’s 33.

This strengthens Netanyahu’s position in negotiating a rotation agreement with Blue and White for the premiership, because the primary argument that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz should be prime minister first was that they have more seats.

It sounds like a win-win. Bennett’s dream came true, and Netanyahu got help in staving off his nightmare.

But there are still a few strange things about this deal.

First of all, Netanyahu got played.

Yes, as a source close to Bennett admitted, he was talking to people in Blue and White. But Bennett had been doing that since a week after the election, and it was all about trying to facilitate a unity government.

And yes, the New Right played hard-to-get with Netanyahu when the prime minister tried to get all the parties in the right-wing bloc to sign a document pledging fealty to him, and then Bennett turned down an offer last week of a mid-level ministry along with a seat in the security cabinet.

Those were all smart negotiating moves that obviously convinced Netanyahu to make a very generous offer.

But it didn’t take a political expert to realize there was never a realistic scenario in which Bennett would join a Gantz-led government that doesn’t have Netanyahu in it.

That would be, as a source close to Bennett said, “political suicide.” Bennett’s base is solidly right-wing. He doesn’t attract centrist-leaning right-wing voters, as the April election, in which the New Right didn’t pass the electoral threshold, proved. And the Right still overwhelmingly supports Netanyahu.

It made no strategic political sense for Bennett and Shaked to abandon Netanyahu’s 55-seat right-wing bloc, and Netanyahu, often called a “wizard” for his political skill, must have known it.

Netanyahu is paying a big price, having a defense minister who he can’t stand and giving the most-coveted cabinet post to a three-seat party, for very little in return. Having a larger faction than Blue and White is not that big of a deal when he has the bloc behind him anyway.

The precarious political situation – both Bennett and Shaked’s specifically, and the broader political context – is the other thing that makes the agreement of dubious value to them.

First of all, Bennett agreed that the post would only be until a new government was formed. If there’s a third election, then that would be for six months. If another election is prevented, then it’ll be in a little over six weeks. It’s not as short as Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as White House Communications Director, which lasted only 10 days, but it’s not much.

It’s a smart spin on the New Right’s part to say that between the protests in Lebanon, the US pulling out of Syria and Iran winning its proxy war against the Saudis in Yemen, Israel really needs a full-time defense minister.

But Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s two years in the job show that Netanyahu makes sure to mostly hold the reins if he doesn’t trust the defense minister. Bennett would have an uphill battle trying to make an impact in office in the best of times, but he’s even less likely to do so in a micro-term in an interim government.

The New Right is in a very difficult political position. They didn’t pass the electoral threshold in April, and they’ve since managed to alienate their former party, Bayit Yehudi, to the point that it is unlikely that they’ll be able to run with them again as they did in September.

Plus, Bayit Yehudi leader Rafi Peretz is not likely to give up on his top spot again, after putting Shaked there didn’t win them too many more votes.

Meanwhile, the New Right’s deal with Likud has nothing to do with the next election. They are only merged factions in the Knesset, not parties, and Netanyahu told Likud ministers that Bennett and Shaked were not promised spots in the Likud list for the next Knesset.

Shaked is thought to be popular in Likud, but Netanyahu blocked her from running with them in September. Even in the post-Netanyahu era, the competition is so stiff to be his heir that Bennett and Shaked don’t stand much of a chance.

It seems that Bennett is betting all the he has, politically, on six weeks to six months in the Defense Ministry. If the New Right lives to see another election, that extra line on his CV, the job he’s wanted for years, will probably be the center of its campaign.

For now, Bennett’s dream has come true. But down the line, the question will be whether the bet pays off and if that’s enough to save Bennett and Shaked’s political careers.


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