Understanding Netanyahu's paranoia - analysis

Netanyahu is always looking behind him. He refuses to appoint a deputy out of fear of being undermined.

August 5, 2019 00:01
2 minute read.
Understanding Netanyahu's paranoia - analysis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on the fateful night of May 29, when the Knesset dissolved itself and set September 17 as the date for new elections. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The quote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” is attributed to Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22.

But it could also apply to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is always looking behind him. He refuses to appoint a deputy out of fear of being undermined. His number twos in Likud tend to shift to another party or to take an extended break from politics.

Recently, the top qualification for Likud politicians’ promotions has been loyalty to Netanyahu. Both Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Communications Minister David Amsalem are proof of that.

Next in line for a promotion is MK David Bitan, who watched Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speculate about forming a government led by Netanyahu’s replacement in Likud and sprang to action.

Bitan said the petition declaring Netanyahu as the Likud’s sole candidate for prime minister was his idea alone and was not requested by his boss.

He was probably telling the truth. By now, Bitan knows Netanyahu’s thinking well enough to read his mind.

“It could be that sometimes I help him too much,” Bitan said in a moment of candor.

But Netanyahu later praised the initiative, and he certainly didn’t try to stop it.

So why was a throw-away line from Liberman enough to spur the entire Likud to action and dominate the political discourse for a day? And what is Netanyahu scared of?

The prime minister’s fears are genuine, because no petition can guarantee that there will not be another Liberman, who stuck a knife in his back when he tried to form a government after the April election.

Current polls show that neither Netanyahu nor Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will be able to form a coalition after the September 17 election. Netanyahu managed 60 MKs last time, only one short. Both Netanyahu and Gantz are several short this time.

But could Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein or MK Gideon Sa’ar form a government?

Of course. Either could get 80 MKs easily, without even trying.

In an election that is not over ideology, it is difficult to discern any key issue that could unite 61 MKs other than despising Netanyahu.

The same 39 candidates who signed the petition on Sunday about Netanyahu being the only candidate for prime minister could sign another one in October, saying that Netanyahu must go, to keep the Likud and the Right in power.

If Netanyahu is the only Likud candidate who could win and also the only candidate who could lose, that is not only a reason for paranoia: it is also a Catch-22.

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