PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud party meeting last year. (Reuters).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“Whoever knows doesn’t talk, and whoever talks doesn’t know,” an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post at the Knesset on Monday before disappearing into Netanyahu’s parliamentary office.
That quote aptly summarized how it has felt in the current coalition crisis that – contrary to most reports – is not a battle between Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism, but one between Netanyahu and himself.
Whether Israel would go to elections was entirely up to Netanyahu when the crisis started, and that remains true.
The crisis over conscription of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) remains a convenient backdrop for a decision that has always been about whether Netanyahu decides it benefits him legally and politically to seek early elections.
Over the last 48 hours, the conscription dispute has appeared to be resolved twice. Early elections appeared to be on the way, then not, then yes, then no – creating the kind of political whiplash that comes as a result of news changing around the clock.
The competing television stations Channel 2 News and Channel 10 News ran exactly opposite prognoses at the same time Sunday night about chances for elections, making viewers who watch both at the same time dizzy.
But inside Netanyahu’s head, there has been logic, rhyme and reason the entire time. It has always been about maximizing the spring celebrations of Israel’s independence and ensuring the next election takes place before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit decides whether to indict him.
When he thought he had a majority for elections in June, he sought them. When he thought there was no majority, he made a deal with United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman that could keep the coalition together. When the majority for June elections appeared to be obtained again, Netanyahu delivered a speech in the Knesset about how much he wanted to maintain his coalition that was interpreted as a eulogy for his own government.
There are 119 Knesset members, as well as a number of ministers who are not MKs, who play supporting roles in what continues to be Netanyahu’s show. He is the star, director and producer. He does not fear elections because everyone but him is replaceable in his own eyes and in the eyes of the sizable portion of the population he has persuaded.
If Netanyahu’s lawyers and political advisers believe a convincing victory in the next Knesset race will persuade Mandelblit not to indict him or the Supreme Court not to force him to quit following an indictment, he can use the conscription battle as an excuse to initiate elections.
But in reality, the only haredi Netanyahu has met with this week who truly matters is his veteran attorney, Jacob Weinroth.
The irony is that Weinroth is actually an authority on the legal aspects of drafting yeshiva students. He was on the Tal Committee that recommended a system for handling the issue in April 2000. Those recommendations were thrown out by the Supreme Court six years later.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog was on the same committee, and his standards on conscripting haredim were more even more lenient than those in the current bill that Herzog so vigorously opposes and fights in his current role.
Throughout 18 years of debates on the issue of conscription, Netanyahu has not played a central role. If he has a point of view on the issue, he has by and large kept it to himself.
While Netanyahu certainly knows his own point of view – as his adviser said – if anyone else does too, they aren’t talking.