Netanyahu won't form a coalition without trust - analysis

Relationships tend to flourish when there is trust. Absent trust, relationships often wither.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU has mastered every leader’s most critical mission: keeping Israel safe, fighting when necessary and peace-making when possible, says the writer.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU has mastered every leader’s most critical mission: keeping Israel safe, fighting when necessary and peace-making when possible, says the writer.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Ask anyone what the foundation of any good relationship is -- be it personal or professional -- and most will say “trust.”

Trust. 

You need it between husband and wife, between parents and children, between friends, business partners, students and teachers, doctors and patients, employers and employees.

Relationships tend to flourish when there is trust  - a firm belief that what the other partner says is true and that he or she will act in a reliable and honest manner. Where it is absent, those relationships often wither.

Interpersonal relationships 

 Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir at the scene of a suspected terror attack near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir at the scene of a suspected terror attack near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Trust is key to interpersonal relationships. And since politics is interpersonal relationships writ large, trust is vital there as well.

This is why a government built on mutual trust between the parties that make it up is more likely to succeed than a government where the component parties have little trust in one another.

Tellingly, the right-wing government in the making under presumptive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu already has a trust deficit.

How can one tell? By looking at the three laws that the four parties making up the future government -- Likud, the Religious Zionist party, Shas and United Torah Judaism -- are set on pushing through the Knesset before the current government is sworn in, and as a precondition to the establishment of the government.

What are these three laws?

The first of the three laws -- the one being spearheaded by Shas -- is an amendment to the Basic Law: The Government that will make it possible for Shas to have Aryeh Deri serve in the government even though he recently received a suspended jail sentence following a January plea bargain for tax offenses. The current law states that a person sentenced to prison cannot serve as a minister for seven years. The change in the law will stipulate that this refers only to someone who was sent to jail, not someone -- like Deri -- who received a suspended sentence.

The second law comes at the initiative of Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben-Gvir as his precondition to joining the government. This law will give the national security minister control over the police budget and specific aspects of policy that are currently under the authority of the police commissioner. Likewise, the Border Police in Judea and Samaria will be transferred from the IDF to Ben-Gvir’s ministry, as will the Green police from the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Green Patrol from the Nature and Parks Authority, and the Interior Ministry’s Land Enforcement Authority. 

A third law, this one at the initiative of Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist party, will allow him to appoint a minister from his party in the Defense Ministry who will have widespread authority over settlements in Judea and Samaria and Area C. This will give Smotrich authority, in coordination with Netanyahu, to appoint the Civil Administration head and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. 

A fourth piece of legislation which, because of time constraints, seems unlikely to be fast-tracked before a government is sworn in, is coming at Netanyahu’s initiative. This would amend a law pushed through by the Lapid-Bennett government making it possible for any four MKs from a party to declare themselves as an independent faction. The previous government enacted this law hoping that it would encourage dissatisfied Likud members to form a faction and cross lines from the opposition to the coalition. 

Netanyahu wants to amend the law, returning it to what it stated originally: that one-third of a party needs to split to be recognized as an independent faction. His interest in doing this is to keep Likud MKs unhappy that they did not get the ministerial jobs they were after, from forming an independent faction and threatening to leave the government. That Netanyahu needs to push this through shows that he does not trust the MKs in his party to stay the course. 

Distrust is the common theme woven through each of the three other pieces of legislation that will be fast-tracked.   

Ordinarily, these types of legislation would be pushed through after a new government was set up, not beforehand. However, because of the reputation Netanyahu has earned over his many years in politics as someone who does not live up to his word and fulfill his commitments, those joining the new government want more than his word and promises; they want those promises enshrined in legislation to ensure that they are honored. 

"Lying son of a liar"

 Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich is seen after coalition meetings in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich is seen after coalition meetings in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Just before the elections, a tape emerged of a private conversation in which Smotrich called Netanyahu a “lying son of a liar.”  The background to this was Netanyahu’s claim that following the 2021 election he was not interested in trying to form a coalition with the help of Mansour Abbas’ Ra’am party. 

Smortirch apologized profusely for this comment, but his insistence on enshrining in legislation what he extracted from Netanyahu during the coalition negotiations -- and not trusting his promises -- shows that, apologies aside, he still does not believe the words of the presumptive prime minister. 

That right-wing activists and media personalities did not take to both social and traditional media with calls to Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Deri to form a government already, and not to waste time on these preconditions and risk the possibility of squandering an opportunity to form a full-throttled right-wing government, is also telling, indicative that there is an understanding of the need --when dealing with Netanyahu -- to get iron-clad guarantees. 

Netanyahu’s supporters like to boast of his longevity in office, and how this has given him experience that no one else can touch. It has also given him a track record, and part of that track record is politicians who took him at his word, only to be left holding empty promises. 

Just ask Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who joined a government with Netanyahu following the 2021 election on the basis of a prime ministerial rotation arrangement, only to find that Netanyahu used a lacuna in the agreement that enabled him to get out of the deal. 

Those types of maneuvers are not easily forgotten. On the contrary, they are informing the legislative preconditions Netanyahu’s own partners set before joining up with him.  These legislative preconditions illustrate that the new government will start with a deep trust deficit -- not the greatest way to enter into any relationship, be it  personal, business or political.