Think About It: A week of unifications

There is no doubt that what finally pushed Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to unite was Netanyahu’s desperate move to unite Otzma Yehudit and Bayit Yehudi.

February 24, 2019 22:29
'The immediate aim of Netanyahu’s move was to reduce the chances of theRight losing maybe five seats

'The immediate aim of Netanyahu’s move was to reduce the chances of the Right losing as many as five seats due to the multiplicity of right-wing religious parties.’ . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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This has been a week of unifications – one under the title “Just not the Left” and the other under the title “Just not Bibi.”

Behind the first unification is Netanyahu’s determination to preserve his current Right-religious coalition (even if the party makeup might change somewhat), not least of all in order to secure his own political survival and avoidance of standing trial on charges of bribery and breach of trust.

Behind the second unification is the determination to ensure that the next government will not be formed by Netanyahu and will no longer be based on the Right-religious coalition which threatens the foundations of Israel’s liberal democracy and pluralism.

The immediate aim of Netanyahu’s move was to reduce the chances of the Right losing as many as five seats due to the multiplicity of right-wing religious parties running independently and failing to pass the qualifying threshold, as happened in the 1992 elections.

There are two problems with this move. The first is that it increased the chances of the Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit being represented in the 21st Knesset, which has aroused horror and revulsion even among many traditional Bayit Yehudi activists and voters, and has been condemned by AIPAC in the United States. The second is that the price Netanyahu agreed to pay for Bayit Yehudi and Otzma Yehudit running together is ridiculously high and objectionable.

Though Netanyahu did not truck directly with the leaders of Otzma Yehudit, he convinced them to make do with the fifth and eighth slots in the united list, while Bayit Yehudi declared that any Otzma Yehudit members elected from the joint list will leave the joint parliamentary group soon after the elections.

To Bayit Yehudi, Netanyahu promised the Education and Construction ministries in his next coalition, and to place Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan in the 28th slot on the Likud’s list – and then, after the elections, let him move back to Bayit Yehudi.

Besides suffering from unprecedented levels of political cynicism, this arrangement also suffers from several possible implausibilities. First of all, if Netanyahu has agreed to grant a party that is expected to barely pass the qualifying threshold two important ministries (assuming that he forms the next government), what will be the key for distributing the remaining ministries among senior Likudniks and his other potential coalition partners?

Secondly, given the current legal status, it is doubtful whether Ben-Dahan will actually be able to break off from the Likud and rejoin Bayit Yehudi rather than form a new, single-member parliamentary group – or whether Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben-Ari, who was placed in fifth place on the joint party list, will be able to run in the future on the list of any existing party after breaking away from the joint parliamentary group, and creating an independent group (see case of MK Orly Levy-Abecassis).

In general, the chances of Netanyahu actually fulfilling some of his promises to Bayit Yehudi seem very slim – a house of cards, both in the sense of being cynical to the extreme, and of being unstable.

THERE IS no doubt that what finally pushed Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to unite was Netanyahu’s desperate move to unite Otzma Yehudit and Bayit Yehudi.

All those who claim that the basic program behind the new party – Blue and White – is the obsession to get rid of Netanyahu are right. However, that involves not only dethroning the man but also trying to repair all the things he has broken and corrupted in this country in the last 10 years – from his Louis XIV mannerisms and airs, attacks on all the gatekeepers and law-enforcement authorities, the deliberate division of Israeli society and delegitimization of the opposition, favoritism for tycoons, excessive privatization of basic social services, unreasonable concessions to some of the coalition partners, complete neglect of the search for a viable settlement with the Palestinians (cooperation with the Gulf states is certainly welcome, but is not an alternative) etc. How the new party plans to confront all these issues is not known at this point.

First impressions from the founding ceremony of the new united party are that all of its four leaders need an urgent makeover by professional stylists; none of them are great orators; and Gabi Ashkenazi looked a little lost. However, the very warm words spoken by Lapid about Gantz in his speech gave reason to believe that he plans to make a real effort to push aside his ego, at least for a while, and try to make the union work.

It should be noted that the three former chiefs of staff who are part of the new party’s leadership all served during Netanyahu’s premiership – two of them as chiefs of staff (Ashkenazi and Gantz) and one (Moshe Ya’alon) as defense minister. In fact, of the four defense ministers who served under Netanyahu, three – Ehud Barak, Ya’alon and Avigdor Liberman – are among his most serious critics, while the fourth, Yitzhak Mordechai, ran against Netanyahu in the 1999 elections for prime minister (Barak won that race).

Of the five former chiefs of staff who served in the course of Netanyahu’s premierships – the late Amnon Lipkin Shahak, Shaul Mofaz, Ashkenazi, Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot – only the latter, who left the post last month, has not (yet) expressed severe criticism of Netanyahu’s conduct.

The new chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, has already managed to indicate to Netanyahu to his face, and in front of TV cameras, that he didn’t know what he was talking about when he suggested using a Hummer machine gun to accompany reservists being deployed in built-up areas in Judea and Samaria. What the microphone caught Kochavi saying was: “in built areas you fight from window to porch, and do not cross the main street with a Hummer.”

According to Lapid, professional teams are currently preparing an election platform that will outline Blue and White’s positions on various issues, so we must wait and see.

However, what gives rise for concern among the new party’s well-wishers is the problem facing all new parties that emerge one fine day from nowhere. Unless Blue and White finds itself in government – either as its leader or as a major coalition partner – it will probably disintegrate soon after it finds itself on the opposition benches. The fact that a majority of its MKs will be first-time MKs, full of ambition but with little or no glue to keep them together, will certainly diminish the party’s survival chances.

It will be a shame if, in a situation in which for the first time in many years the two largest parties together are likely to command a majority in the Knesset, they will not find a way to establish a government together, which would neutralize the blackmailing power of the smaller potential coalition members, and enable the government to make important decisions. Unfortunately the only chance of that happening is if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit decides to indict Netanyahu, forcing him to step down before the elections.

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