Netanyahu is putting the State of Israel up for sale - opinion

Netanyahu, who is being coerced and has become a hostage in the hands of his tormentors, who smell his weakness. The citizens of Israel are caught in the crossfire.

 Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Soon after the ballots were counted and Benjamin Netanyahu had sealed an election win that was set to see him return to the premiership for a sixth term, he set his next goal: swearing in his new government around the same time that the Knesset would be sworn in. 

Even veteran political commentators believed that forming a coalition between the ruling bloc parties would be a walk in the park, and that before long the new ministers would be comfortably settled into their new bureaus.

But reality has a tendency to catch everyone by surprise and it appears that the time elapsed since the November 1 elections, during which Netanyahu has been forced to walk a rocky path, contains plenty of clues about his government’s future.

In this theater of the absurd, there is one lead performer, Netanyahu, who is being coerced and has become a hostage in the hands of his tormentors, who smell his weakness. The citizens of Israel are caught in the crossfire, and some of them have yet to realize the price they are going to pay.

The world’s attention, particularly that of the US, which is closely monitoring developments, is now focused on Israel. According to media reports, American officials have warned their Israeli counterparts that they will find it difficult to work with extremist elements appointed as ministers in the next government. Netanyahu is aware of the cost the State of Israel is likely to pay for this coalition, but he has persisted in forging ahead nonetheless.

 Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset vote this week. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset vote this week. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Netanyahu’s ambition has been to swear in a government as quickly as possible. He reasoned that, as opposed to the previous government comprising disparate parties with little in common, in this incoming coalition, the parties speak the same language. 

And yet, the reality on the ground quickly disproved this theory. The cracks rapidly emerged, with Netanyahu’s partners demanding that all agreements be anchored in written documents prior to the government being sworn in. Their demands were fueled by the realization that they are dealing with a designated prime minister who is weak, vulnerable to extortion, and willing to sell out the country. 

Under such conditions, they reasoned, why not raise the costs they demand for joining the government?

Negotiations began on November 5 with the first visitors to Netanyahu’s office – representatives of the Shas Party. They set the stage for the surreal demands that have piled up on Netanyahu’s table – demands that will change the face of Israel, and which carry a combined price tag of 100 billion shekels.

These demands include: A doubling of stipends for married religious seminary students; discounts in public transportation subsidies for yeshiva students, matching those received by university students; a shift to “kosher” electricity production; a bill defining Torah study as a means to avoid military enlistment for yeshiva students; forcing school pupils to study Talmud; reducing housing costs for ultra-Orthodox citizens; and splitting various government ministries and rotations in government roles. The above make up just some of the demands.

In a government where everything is justified as serving a national cause, the head of the Otzma Yehudit party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, insisted that he be referred to as the “National Security Minister” instead of the traditional Public Security Minister. Ben-Gvir raced to draft a new law stating that an array of police powers and budgets will be subordinated directly to him, as well as giving himself veto rights in the important ministerial legislative committee.

Meanwhile, Avi Maoz, the chairman of the far-Right Noam Party, will be appointed as a Deputy Minister in charge of the Jewish National Identity Authority, and he will now oversee educational programs. Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Degel Hatorah party, stated unequivocally that under his vision for the future, half of the people would study Torah and the other half would serve in the military.

The leader of the Religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich, demanded and received the Finance Ministry and declared that if we follow the Torah we will be rewarded with economic prosperity. He also demanded, and was granted, responsibility over the IDF Civil Administration and powers over the Defense Ministry unit, known as the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories.

Orit Struck, a member of Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party, will serve as a “Minister for National Missions,” while Arye Deri, chairman of the Shas Party, has paved a path to return to power as Interior Minister and, as a bonus, also received the Health Ministry – despite his rich criminal history.

 MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks with MK Aryeh Deri during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks with MK Aryeh Deri during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

These looting campaigns by Netanyahu’s coalition partners were met with official silence by Likud Knesset members, but internal divisions and political turmoil rapidly followed. Netanyahu recognized that he was walking across a minefield; he has since attempted to avoid domestic conflict or the resignation of members of the Knesset from his party.

To avoid such gaffes, he immediately approved a measure increasing the minimum number of MKs who can break off from a party, as part of a flurry of new legislation placed on the Knesset’s desk even before the government was sworn in.

What will happen next? Likud MKs will not likely respond to this perceived insult, but their bitterness will not go away, and the lack of trust among coalition members will only grow, as will friction between them.

In its 75th year of independence, Israel stands at a fateful crossroads. Ironically, it was Likud MK, David Bitan who once said that “the start does not bode well for the future.”

May God help us all.

The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. She served as an MK in the 24th Knesset. She has served as a deputy local council head at Kiryat Tivon, and has worked as a journalist and as a senior lecturer in academic institutions for 24 years.