Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in more control than his opponents claim.
Despite the heat he has received from those saying he is beholden to his coalition partners, Netanyahu has proved that while individuals such as Justice Minister Yair Levin, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich may make noise, when it comes to action, the prime minister has the upper hand.
The most notable example of Netanyahu’s power is in the debate over the contentious judicial reform. Early on, the prime minister was unable to chime in on the reform strangling the country due to a plea agreement he made barring him from commenting on judicial matters that may be pertinent to his ongoing trials.
During this time, Netanyahu stayed quiet while Levin tried pushing through the reform in one fell swoop without input from the opposition.
As protests ensued, the government passed the Incapacitation Law - currently under review by the High Court of Justice - that set rules for how a prime minister could be removed from office, thus giving him freedom to comment on the reform. Ultimately, Netanyahu pumped the breaks on the reform and allowed for debates to occur at the President’s Residence.
Once those fell through, and after the Knesset passed the Law to Cancel the Reasonableness Clause, Netanyahu again stepped in and said that outside of reforming the Judicial Selection Committee, there would be no more reform.
This is despite many saying he was unable to control Levin or Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chair Simcha Rothman from pursuing the reform.
Netanyahu sidesteps Smotrich to release funds for the Arab sector
The next notable example of Netanyahu putting an end to controversial moves by his coalition was this week when the prime minister sidestepped Smotrich’s plans to freeze NIS 2.5 billion earmarked for east Jerusalem development. Smotrich, who faced criticism from both the opposition and coalition, was dead set on making sure the money did not reach the Arab-majority area of Jerusalem. Citing what he said was a misuse of funds, Smotrich said he would ultimately release the funds, but only after a deliberate process.
In the end, Netanyahu stepped in and not only released the funding but added NIS 700 million to the total. While Smotrich made it out as a win, it was clear the one pulling the levers was the prime minister.
Why the prime minister has been able to keep his coalition in check is exactly the opposite of why his opponents have said he is not in charge - their reason being that Netanyahu needs them more than they need him.
However, neither the Religious Zionist Party nor Otzma Yehudit could form a government without Netanyahu, and the prime minister could theoretically attempt to form a unity government with National Unity, led by Benny Gantz, and Yesh Atid, led by opposition leader Yair Lapid. Though this is unlikely, it highlights the fact that people such as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir need Netanyahu more than he needs them for legitimacy and for political power.
Netanyahu's biggest test so far
Now the governing coalition is faced with arguably its biggest threat yet - the fight over the new Conscription Law, a draft bill that has been on hold in some way or another for the past six years and will set allotments for draftees from the ultra-Orthodox sector.
The haredi parties have made threats that if the new draft bill is not passed at the beginning of the Knesset session, scheduled to start on October 15, they will disband the government. More so, they said that the final aspect of judicial reform Netanyahu said would pass, the Judicial Selection Committee, will not go to debate until their bill is passed.
The government caved to this request, and now discussions are ongoing between the government, the IDF, the Defense Ministry, and the haredi parties about how to best proceed. Their current requests - blanket exemptions and lowering the exemption age from 26 to 22, while also including a clause that makes it immune from judicial reform - have already been seen as a non-starter.
Hebrew media has reported that Netanyahu is seeking a compromise that would include drafting Haredim into National Service, though this has been rejected by the haredi parties.
On this issue, it is too early to tell whether Netanyahu will be able to control what even Likud sources have been reported to say their voters cannot support. If history is any telling for the future, Netanyahu will get his way, even if he has to deal with some opposition on the way - most of all because the haredi parties' best chance of a favorable deal will be with the current prime minister.