Netanyahu gives crash course in Machiavellian politics - analysis

Smotrich is now on the receiving end of what the Center-Left has called the "poison machine" – and, despite his experience, he is still taken aback.

 MK BENJAMIN NETANYAHU appears at his book launch event in Jerusalem on Monday (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK BENJAMIN NETANYAHU appears at his book launch event in Jerusalem on Monday
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Sunday will mark the midway point of MK Benjamin Netanyahu's 28-day allotment to form a government, without even one coalition agreement being signed.

What the negotiations did supply though was a glimpse of what it means to do business with prime minister-elect MK Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud.

We have been fighting together in the trenches for years in the opposition … there was a lot of talk in the opposition that we would need to work together afterwards as partners.

Source in Religious Zionist Party

Usually identifying as "senior members of the Likud" without specifying who exactly, the party put out countless negative statements and inaccurate information intended to increase public pressure – known in short as "spin" - on its negotiating partners, with most directed at Religious Zionist Party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich.

Likud increasing the pressure on potential partners

Smotrich, who is no stranger to Netanyahu, having called him a "liar of all liars" – was still surprised by the mass of the Likud's lies and demagoguery, according to a source from the party.

"We have been fighting together in the trenches for years in the opposition … there was a lot of talk in the opposition that we would need to work together afterwards as partners. And after round after round after round, the expectation is to work based on [mutual] understanding, and not in the press or using spin," the source said.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

In a long statement on Wednesday, RZP laid out what it claimed was the truth about what went on behind the scenes.

The party accused the Likud – and this is a partial list – of leaking "dozens" of falsities to the press; giving "briefings and spin intended to discredit and belittle" the party; sending "battalions of tweeters and 'analysts' to lie, abuse and curse us vulgarly"; attempting to "trample, humiliate and belittle the Religious Zionist Party"; "ridiculing the values" of religious-Zionism; and the list goes on.

The Likud is attempting to "trample, humiliate and belittle the Religious Zionist Party."

Religious Zionist Party statement

Smotrich is taken aback by the vitriol

The Likud did not deny the claims. It responded with another degrading statement, accusing Smotrich of forsaking ideology for "jobs" on the day of a murderous terror attack. RZP responded by adding "cynical use of a terror attack" to its list of grievances.

Smotrich's "liar of all liars" comment referred to the Likud's denial that it had intended to form a coalition with Ra'am. Smotrich was the one who refused to sit with Ra'am, but other than the Likud trying to take some of his credit, the lie didn't harm him.

This time, however, he was on the receiving end of what the Center-Left has called the "poison machine" – and, despite his experience, was still taken aback.

 Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri, Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Party leaders at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri, Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Party leaders at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Smotrich is keen on fulfilling his central campaign promises. Yet instead of the strong statements by the Likud during the election campaign about sovereignty, strengthening Israel's Jewish character and "returning national pride" – he is now facing the post-election (and perhaps more authentic) Netanyahu, who is sensitive to the US administration, does not believe in full annexation of the West Bank or the complete overhaul of the judicial system, and does not envision the state's Jewish character in the same way Smotrich does.

While the issues in the negotiations will probably be worked out eventually, the mistrust between the two parties and their leaders may not. The agreements will probably be signed and a new government will form, but the intangibles – trust, good faith, partnership – will likely lead to rough sailing.