Depth of distrust between Netanyahu and coalition partners on display - analysis

Four laws are being fast-tracked through the Knesset's legislative process, using the incoming coalition's Knesset majority.

 Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Political events in the past two weeks have exposed the mistrust that exists between prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and his soon-to-be coalition partners and among the ranks of his own Likud party.

The manifestation is the legislative blitz.

Four bills are currently being expedited through the Knesset with the help of the incoming coalition’s clear majority.

The government has not been formed yet because Netanyahu’s partners have conditioned their participation in the government on these bills being enacted before the coalition takes power.

The proposed Police Law stands out as the one with the most far-reaching implications that are as yet unclear. Every legal opinion voiced during the debates on the bill by almost every current and former senior law-enforcement official, and even by the police chief, the police’s legal adviser and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev (Labor) who will shortly leave his post, all said that this was not a law that should be fast-tracked and considered its wording to be severely problematic.

This is because the wording would alter the balance of power between the government and the police. All the expert opinions thought it should be legislated methodically and systematically and requires detailed examination over months. It must not be rushed through, they experts insisted.

Tough questions asked

Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is slated to take over as the minister with responsibility for overseeing law enforcement, thought differently. The reason for this is that once the government is formed, he does not trust Netanyahu to back him up in pushing the law through the Knesset.

 Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's far-right agitator. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's far-right agitator. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The same goes for Bezalel Smotrich. The coalition agreement between his Religious Zionist Party (RZP), and Likud says that he will receive significant control of civilian-related issues in the West Bank.

But the law – which allows for an additional minister within the Defense Ministry – does not detail what exactly the hierarchy will be between Smotrich and likely incoming defense minister, Yoav Gallant. Will Smotrich have to defer to Gallant on security issues? The answer is unclear.

This issue is extremely important, as decisions Smotrich would make regarding civilian issues – such as acting against Palestinian and/or Jewish construction infractions in Area C – could directly affect the security situation in the West Bank and more than just having local implications, they would without doubt affect Israel’s diplomatic standing abroad, so who will have the final say in such situations?

The only reason this law is also being pushed through hastily is because Smotrich also does not have complete faith that Netanyahu will be true to his word after the government is sworn in.

It is worth remembering that Smotrich called Netanyahu “a liar of all liars” in a tape that was leaked prior to the election, regarding Netanyahu’s denial that he had been willing to form a coalition last year with Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas.

Mistrust runs rampant also between Netanyahu and his own Likud members. One of the bills that Netanyahu himself demanded be passed through before forming the government was to wipe a clause that the previous coalition enacted to enable four MKs to break away from their party during a Knesset’s tenure in order to form a new party.

The previous coalition’s amendment was intended to encourage disgruntled Likud members to jump ship and join their coalition.

WITH THE Likud about to take power, the incoming coalition will have 64 members, and four Likud members could theoretically still have threatened to break away and leave Netanyahu without a majority.

Netanyahu was so suspicious of his own party members that he wanted to return the law to what it was before – that at least a third of the party members would be needed in order to break away and form a new party. This means at least 10 Likud members, an implausible scenario.

The fact that Netanyahu felt he needed to pass this legislation to ensure that a breakaway can’t happen speaks volumes about the mistrust among the Likud faction.

Also within the Likud, rumors about rifts in the party became public knowledge in another instance last week when Netanyahu sent his aides to take lie-detector tests to receive proof that they were not the sources of a leak.

The rift developed between Netanyahu’s aides and negotiators Aki Cohen and Tzachi Braverman, and Likud MKs Tali Gottlieb and Galit Distal Atbaryan. Gottlieb accused Netanyahu’s aides of demanding that in her opening Knesset plenum speech she soften her usually combative rhetoric, and then leaking the demand to the press after she refused to comply.

The sides then traded barbs on Twitter, each accusing the other of the leak.

Distal Atbaryan, in the meantime, had a row with Netanyahu media adviser Yonatan Urich prior to the election, and reports surfaced last week that as a result, she would not be offered a ministerial position. Distal Atbaryan also expressed her displeasure publicly.

Then, there was the Twitter clash between Likud MKs Danny Danon and Yoav Kisch last week. Danon was reportedly on a brief visit to Prague that he claimed had been pre-arranged but Kisch criticized him on Twitter for being the only MK not present at the Knesset during important voting.

Danon responded by accusing Kisch of washing the party’s dirty laundry in public, and claiming that he had offset his vote with a member of the other opposition who also was not present in the Knesset at the time. This is a common practice among MKs.

The spat between the two did not come in a void as both are competing for the position of Knesset speaker. Netanyahu, deliberately, will not announce until the last minute the roles that Likud members will receive in the government in order to ensure that those who are disappointed will not have time to rock the boat too violently.

In the past, Likud members have embraced the internal politics, arguing that it was part of a healthy and robust party but recent weeks showed that mistrust, spite and rivalry between its members run deep, as does the suspicion between the incoming prime minister and his soon-to-be senior coalition partners.