Israel after Benjamin Netanyahu

Tragically, Netanyahu is clinging to his position by imposing signatures on everyone – from Likud MKs to the party’s various larger forums that attest that he is the only Likud choice for PM.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Meir Shamgar’s funeral on October 22 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Meir Shamgar’s funeral on October 22
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The world after Bibi seems to have begun. He failed to form a government and now the main parties are starting off in this strange new world by playing chicken. This is a game in which drivers head their cars towards one another at high speed and at the last moment, one of them becomes “chicken” (scared) and swerves aside. 
The political version of this in Israel will probably be that Benny Gantz, anointed for a 28-day period as potential prime minister, will enter into negotiations with whoever will talk to him. The right-wing bloc of the 55 MKs made up of the Likud, national-religious and ultra-Orthodox have signed their political future over to Benjamin Netanyahu, whose negotiating team will speak for them.
As the end of the 28-day period is reached, the drivers will head top-speed at one another. No one will want to be responsible for a third election in a year.  At the last-minute, or in a further two weeks extension President Rivlin can grant Gantz, someone will declare correctly that the country’s security and budgetary situation demands compromise.  A new government will be patched together. 
The political situation, meanwhile, is exactly like a skit by the two great Yiddish comedians, Dzigan and Schumacher.  On stage, they are standing applauding Stalin at a Communist Party Congress in Moscow. The applause goes on and on, and Dzigan, out of the corner of his mouth, says to his side-kick, “You stop clapping.”  Schumacher, no fool, says from the corner of his mouth, “You stop first.” There they are applauding and pleading that the other should be first to dare sin, to stop applauding the great Stalin.  
That is the Likud and its right-wing partners today.  Each says out of the side of the mouth. “You stop applauding first.  Get up and tell Bibi it is time to go.”  And the other, pale and with knees knocking together arrhythmically, speaks from the other side of his mouth, “You be first to tell Bibi to go.” And so it goes, each is ready to give the honor to the other.
Even former convinced Netanyahu supporters who write in The Jerusalem Post, a sister publication, have come out – one explicitly and one by implication, that it is time that Netanyahu might or should walk away from the Prime Minister’s Office with dignity and self-respect.
Ruthie Blum, whose column’s title, “Right from Wrong,” encapsulates her views, called out those who belittle Netanyahu by calling him a political “magician.” Her word of choice is “master.” But then she also wrote, “This is not to say that Bibi warrants no criticism, or that without him at the helm, Israel is doomed. On the contrary, the Jewish state was established five months before he was born. It managed not only to survive but thrive for nearly five decades before he became prime minister for the first time in 1996.  Nor is it reasonable or desirable to hinge the country’s continued resilience and strength on a single leader, no matter how great.”
In other words, she was really saying that even the master’s time may be up and this should not sow panic among his followers nor wreak havoc upon the land.     
More clearly, former Netanyahu supporter and a distinguished man of the Right, Isi Leibler, under the headline, “The Netanyahu era must come to an end,” wrote, “He should step down with dignity now, and the appointee of the Likud representing the greatest number of supporters should take the first term as prime minister in a rotation with Blue and White.”
Obviously, my respected colleagues and friends see the near future without Netanyahu. Leibler is kind in the choice of one word.  I am sorry to say, sadly, that Netanyahu has forfeited his dignity out of love of office. 
This writer worked for two great prime ministers, David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol.  Their collaboration, which laid the foundations for our state and its dynamic economy and military of today, ended in a Götterdämmerung of painful clashes.  These were arguments over a principle, not over police investigations and juridical indictments. This writer has also praised the prime minister when he thought praise was due, and has criticized him often for his flawed qualities. I want to respect the prime minister of my country, as I did the early ones I knew.
Tragically, Netanyahu is clinging to his position by imposing signatures on everyone – from Likud MKs to the party’s various larger forums that attest that he is the only Likud choice for PM. He tried to force his religious and ultra-Orthodox partners making up the right-wing bloc to sign and sign again. One spry Israeli  journalist coined the term “serial signature-enforcer.” Only Ayelet Shaked, leader of the New Right, had the courage to refuse the second graphomanic demand.
Even Gideon Sa’ar, who had the guts to say he would face off with Netanyahu in a Likud internal primaries race, has not wanted to lead a revolt against Netanyahu. He knows that the ministerial and party hack-claque would vilify him to the ends of the earth as a traitor. In more staid fashion, Israel Katz, Lord High Minister of the slowest-built fast train in history and now foreign minister told his sukkah guests that when Netanyahu leaves, he will be a candidate to replace him.
Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem, has also thrown his hat into the ring. Barkat solidified his support from the Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox by abandoning his pluralistic partners and giving the ultras power and funding.
Now, just by chance, he has launched an autobiographical book (and post-Netanyahu campaign) at a ceremony reportedly attended by “thousands.”  He delivered a well-tailored speech, and obviously, being a multi-millionaire, was able to afford the ghost-and speechwriters, the expensive milieu and goodies.  OK, not by chance! This did not happen on the spur of the moment, and shows how well and long ahead Barkat planned and orchestrated the book, the launching, and the speech.
Since then, Barkat is running a punch-packed campaign of sales for his book on repetitive radio advertisements.  The publicity (wink-wink) is for the book, and not – heaven forfend – an opener in the race which will propel him into greater national prominence.  He might just make it.  Just as he ditched the pluralists and went back on his promises to non-orthodox groups when he decided years ago to make the national run, so too the book and radio ads show his careful and detailed planning ability.
To return to Blue-and-White’s efforts to form a government, I was quite sure that Yair Lapid would withdraw his demand to rotate leadership of the party with Benny Gantz. So it turned out to be. Gantz has strong nerves and was known for his equanimous façade as the chief of staff of the IDF. Obviously he will not form a minority government based on the Arab Joint List’s support from outside a coalition. This is just a dirty piece of cloth the Likud’s spin doctors are weaving.
At the last minute, a coalition will arise. In this Middle East, we dare not wait too long. And I believe that within a month or six weeks overriding national needs will triumph over those of today’s trembling knees and shaky signatures. 
Avraham Avi-hai has studied Jewish and Israeli history and political science both in theory, holding a PhD, and lived both in practice for over six decades. He has also served as a senior member of the Jewish Agency Executive, as world chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal. Comments are welcome at [email protected]