Does passing budget guarantee Lapid will be PM? - analysis

Could recent political developments see Likud return to power in as little as two years?

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid seen during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid seen during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pleaded with the ministers and MKs in his governing coalition at Sunday’s cabinet meeting to keep internal conflicts to themselves and “not rock the boat” until the state budget passes into law by the November 14 deadline.

The response of the coalition politicians unsurprisingly was to keep on rocking.

The following day, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid delivered a divisive speech at the Knesset’s memorial for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that may have helped build his credentials as the Center-Left camp’s leader but did not bring any stability to the current government.

The day after, Ra’am (United Arab List) threatened elections over a bill requiring the government to hook up illegally built Arab homes to electricity. That night, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope) published his bill that would prevent an indicted MK – like Benjamin Netanyahu – from forming a coalition, knowing that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked strongly opposes it.

The coalition rocked so much that it even lost on a meaningless vote calling for a probe of the country’s placement of Arab teachers in the education system.

 Israeli minister of Defense Benny Gantz, minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Justice Gideon Saar, Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli seen during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of Rabin. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Israeli minister of Defense Benny Gantz, minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Justice Gideon Saar, Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli seen during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of Rabin. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

But there were also plenty of conflicts that were avoided. Over and over again, controversial decisions were postponed until “after the budget.”

Neither of the anti-Netanyahu bills will be advanced until then, nor will any other controversial legislation. The candidates for chairman of the Jewish Agency immediately saw through a decision to postpone the deadline to join the race until November 17, immediately after the budget deadline.

That decision was made to prevent two possible rebellions: By Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who wants his confidante Omer Yankelevich to get the Agency job, and by independent minister Eli Avidar, who could return to the Knesset and sink the budget if he is not promoted. Floating Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai as a possible Agency chairman gives hope to Avidar, though if he left the cabinet, Labor would want to promote one of its own.

Lapid was the driving force behind postponing the Jewish Agency decision, which was supposed to be made in time for next week’s Agency Board of Governors meeting. Instead, that decision will have to wait for the next time that body meets in February.

It’s not like Lapid cares so much about who will head the Agency, after his candidate Elazar Stern sunk his own candidacy by saying in a radio interview that he shredded anonymous complaints when he was head of the IDF Manpower Division. What Lapid cares about is the budget passing and becoming prime minister.

The rotation agreement between Bennett and Lapid states that it is supposed to happen on August 27, 2023. But the fine print says that if an election is initiated earlier, Bennett stays prime minister during the race if it is initiated before the current budget passes; Lapid would become prime minister if it happens after that.

Passing the budget brings Lapid one big step closer to the premiership. But at last week’s Jerusalem Post Conference, there were two steps that took Lapid further away.

One came when in his first reaction to MK Yuli Edelstein’s challenge to Netanyahu, Sa’ar told Post editor Yaakov Katz on stage that his New Hope Party could work together with a new Likud leader.

“If Likud will bring another candidate, it will be natural to cooperate, not only for New Hope but for other parties,” he said. “If they elect another leader, everything will be open.”

That means that if Netanyahu allowed a Likud primary in which he would not run in the summer of 2023, the winner could form a government with the current Knesset and stop Lapid from taking over. That scenario would be more likely if the anti-Bibi bills pass and pressure mounts in Likud to prevent a Lapid premiership.

The second came when Shaked was asked about the possibility of Bennett retiring from politics ahead of the rotation. She was asked whether as the new head of Yamina, she would try to bring about the establishment of a right-wing government or allow Lapid to take power and perhaps form a Palestinian state.

“Are we in a fairy tale?” she asked. “I won’t answer a hypothetical question, but the current government is working. The government is stable. Give us time to deal with the urgent issues that we have. We’re about to pass the budget and it’s very important.”

Perhaps once the budget passes, she will start answering that question differently. The closer it gets to the rotation, the more it will look realistic and far from a fairy tale.

And by then, it will be more acceptable to rock the boat.