Netanyahu and Bennett.
(photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swooped in at the last minute to block Bayit Yehudi’s bill making it nearly impossible to divide Jerusalem, one could be forgiven for thinking a coalition crisis was brewing.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett had been hyping the bill for weeks – but when it didn’t end up going to a vote, he didn’t threaten to rock the coalition in any way. Bennett just said his party would persist in trying to push the bill through.
When it comes to Netanyahu and Bennett, drama is almost to be expected, as the two have long been at odds with one another.
Yet Bennett was almost uncharacteristically calm after Netanyahu stopped the bill.
That calm could very well be the confidence that comes with knowing a major power-player has your back.
It’s pretty clear that American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is no longer on Netanyahu’s side. After a decade of sponsoring the free daily Israel Hayom
, it seems that Adelson, or his wife, Miriam, who is thought to have the more hands-on role with the paper, has noticeably shifted the pro-Netanyahu editorial line.
The schism happened when conversations between Netanyahu and Yediot Aharonot
publisher, Arnon Mozes, were released to the press. In those conversations, Mozes offered Netanyahu positive press in exchange for support for a bill that would hurt Israel Hayom’s
Since then, Adelson has testified to the police in the ongoing corruption investigation against the prime minister.
The talk in the political sphere is that Adelson is looking for a new horse to bet on – and if favorable coverage in Israel Hayom
is any indication, Bennett is a very strong candidate.
Bennett’s camp says Adelson has not said anything explicit to the minister to indicate a shift, but they’ve noticed a positive trend.
In photos from a recent event dedicating the new medical school in Ariel, the two men and their wives were all smiles.
At the very least, Adelson likes the Jerusalem bill, which even made the front page on Israel Hayom
, while other news outlets were focused on the Western Wall and conversion issues.
Netanyahu’s behavior in relation to the Jerusalem bill is a bit of a head-scratcher.
The reasons his office gave for blocking the bill are technical and could easily be dismissed as excuses: The coalition agreement says Basic Laws and amendments to them must be promoted by consensus among coalition parties. Also, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin should be involved in the passage of a bill relating to Jerusalem.
But coalition agreements are rarely adhered to fully, and Elkin was a cosponsor of the 2007 bill of which the current iteration is a word-forword copy. So it’s hard to imagine he’d have major objections.
Furthermore, Netanyahu was also a cosponsor of the 2007 bill, even arguing in its favor in committee meetings back when he was opposition leader. Plus, Netanyahu is known for accusing his political opponents of wanting to divide Jerusalem before every election, so opposing this bill is giving them easy ammunition. Add to that his greatest benefactor’s clear support of the proposal, and it makes little sense that he would pounce to block it.
The most reasonable possibility is that he’s worried about upsetting US President Donald Trump as Trump tries to get peace talks off the ground.
But blocking the Jerusalem bill also fits with a pattern of behavior Netanyahu has of sabotaging anyone who gets too politically successful.
For example, when Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon became the most popular minister in Likud, Netanyahu put obstacles in front of him, to the point that Kahlon quit politics for a few years and then came back as the head of a new party, Kulanu.
Bennett used to be Netanyahu’s top aide. The two then feuded and have had an infamously acrimonious relationship ever since.
Now that Bennett may be Adelson’s new golden boy, that relationship isn’t going to get any better.
Exhibit A is the surprise block of the Jerusalem bill.