Opposition to Netanyahu could overcome internal fights and bring him down

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: MKs present in the room said they felt energized by their common goal, and comfortable working together despite their differences.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid
Eight of the feistiest current and former MKs from five parties in the camp working to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came together in the Knesset on Wednesday night to monitor the counting of the last half-million votes.
Most of them had not slept in 48 hours. But no one fell asleep when they came together in Yesh Atid’s faction room for a pep talk by Yesh Atid’s representative on the Central Elections Committee, former party director-general Gil Segal.
There were Orna Barbivai and Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid, New Hope’s Ze’ev Elkin, Blue and White’s Eitan Ginzburg, Yisrael Beytenu’s Oded Forer, and Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, Tamar Zandberg and Yair Golan. New Hope’s Yoaz Hendel and Labor’s Ram Shefa came later.
MKs present in the room said they felt energized by their common goal, and comfortable working together despite their differences that they had been highlighting throughout their campaigns that had ended the night before.
On the other side, the only MK from Netanyahu’s camp at the Knesset was the Likud’s representative on the committee, Shlomo Karhi. Yesh Atid felt the need to draft so many MKs because coronavirus regulations split the counting into many locations around the Knesset.
It would have been easier to just have MKs from Yesh Atid, but the party made a point of building a coalition of MKs from multiple parties and tweeting the picture, knowing it could be seen as a metaphor for the future.
“We wanted to make sure there were no shticks in the counting, because every vote matters,” one of the MKs present told The Jerusalem Post between yawns on his way home on Thursday. “We were tired but we were focused on a common cause.”
When the MKs got together, the vote count showed 59 MKs in the Netanyahu camp, including Yamina. The Likud would say that only hatred of Netanyahu and the desire for revenge against him could unite the other 61 to bring him down, but the MKs said it is actually the opposite.
“Our parties have mutual interests in bringing about change,” one of the MKs said. “It is not a matter of hate. We want change, and without [Netanyahu], the Likud would be so much easier to deal with. Everything would be so much easier.”
SOURCES IN the parties in attendance acknowledged that building such a coalition would mean overcoming plenty of fierce internal disputes, some of which have gone on for many years.
There is the fight between Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, the animosity of Yisrael Beytenu for Arab MKs, and the disputes within the two Arab lists that broke up in January and have fought mercilessly on the campaign trail for the past three months.
The first of the fights appears to still be raging. Lapid called all the heads of the parties in the anti-Netanyahu camp except Gantz. But Gantz told the Post last week that he was ready to help Lapid build a coalition despite all their baggage.
“I will support whoever shows me he can form a coalition and principles we agree on,” Gantz said. “If Lapid will be able to create a coalition, our principles are closer on key aspects. The personal issues with him are stronger than with others, but I value the mission of serving the country and not serving someone, so I will put the country first when it comes to that issue.”
A source who has worked with Gantz said he would be the last one to prevent ousting Netanyahu if it is possible.
“He’ll rise to the occasion yet again if the other political leaders are willing to do the same,” the source said. “Now when the dust has settled, they are starting to realize that if they don’t put their egos aside, they can miss a historic opportunity. It would be poetic justice to see the man who paralyzed the country and would not let go finally being cast aside. Revenge isn’t part of our lexicon. It’s about understanding the severity of the situation and ensuring that Israel isn’t dragged into endless rounds of elections.”
If neither side can build a government, a fifth election in two and a half years would be held in October.
It would be easier for an anti-Netanyahu coalition to be built if Yamina leader Naftali Bennett was willing to join it. That would undoubtedly be the preference of Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope, who would rather not rely on the two Arab parties, and Bennett anyway criticized Netanyahu harsher than anyone during the campaign.
But sources close to Bennett said emphatically that such a scenario was not going to happen. Bennett is building himself up for the elections of the post-Netanyahu era, when he intends to lead the Right.
If a coalition is formed, Bennett will oppose it and try to bring it down, while trying to take over the Right and become its leader, the sources said.
That leaves no choice but for the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope parties to rely on the Arab Joint List and Ra’am (United Arab List) parties to enable the coalition’s formation. Lapid said during the campaign that unlike in the past, he would have no problem with that.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has given indications that he is ready to take that step. New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, who was weakened by his poor performance in the election, said on Thursday that he was willing to give up his ego to enable a new government. That was interpreted as a sign he was willing to give up on his promises to not rely on non-Zionist parties.
The disputes within the Joint List and Ra’am may be the hardest to overcome. They harmed each other by not signing a surplus-vote sharing agreement.
At press time, it remained unclear whether that decision would have serious ramifications. By law, without such a deal, surplus votes are divided by the largest parties. That could give an additional seat to Likud at the expense of the anti-Netanyahu camp, and result in a 60-60 MK stalemate in the Knesset.
The possibility of an anti-Netanyahu coalition being formed became more likely on Thursday morning when Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich firmly ruled out any possible coalition with Ra’am. It remains to be seen if he would change his mind if it would become evident that his decision would bring Yair Lapid to power, but it is unlikely.
Netanyahu worked very hard to get the Religious Zionist Party in the Knesset, knowing it could help him remain prime minister. It would be ironic if Smotrich’s animosity for the Arab parties ends up bringing Netanyahu down.
There is one more dispute and one more irony that could impact the government’s formation: President Reuven Rivlin’s animosity for Netanyahu that has gone on for decades.
Rivlin’s director-general, Harel Tuvi, said the president would be guided solely by professional considerations. He denied reports that Rivlin would not consider giving the mandate to Netanyahu due to the criminal indictments in his trial that resumes April 5, the day before the new Knesset will be sworn in and two days before Rivlin will grant the mandate.
“The president will be guided by the decision of the nation,” Tuvi said. “He has wide considerations and can choose among many options, but he cannot go against a clear decision by the nation.”
That means that if 61 MKs, including all the Arab MKs, recommend Lapid, or a compromise candidate like Gantz to form a government, they will receive Rivlin’s mandate.
Sources in the anti-Netanyahu camp said building such a coalition would be difficult but not impossible if they unite around their common purposes of replacing Netanyahu and avoiding a fifth election.
“Everyone will have to step down from their unrealistic illusions for a tangible goal,” an adviser to one of the party leaders said. “Everyone would have to sacrifice. To get there, we would have to find the middle ground on a personal level and a high ground for Israel.”•