After the government was formed in late December, a question hung in the air for weeks: Where did Benjamin Netanyahu go?
He barely spoke, he was not seen in public as frequently as in the past and his hand was not being felt on the proverbial wheel. The mystery grew as the weeks passed. Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich pushed through radical legislation and Netanyahu was barely heard from. Occasionally, he would pop up when something went too far, like when Shas chairman Arye Deri proposed a law that could jail women who wore short sleeves to the Western Wall.
Who is responsible for Israel's rupture?
There are a lot of different politicians who bear responsibility for the rupture within Israel. There is Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Simcha Rothman, who both pushed through this legislation as if it was all that mattered, without caring about anything else. The opposition was also not always innocent. At different times during the past few months, they seemed to set demands that were too high to just start a dialogue.
But there is no one who is as responsible as Netanyahu. He has led this effort since the beginning, pushing for the reforms to – primarily – increase his chances to somehow sway the outcome of his trial.
What has happened in Israel is his responsibility. He led the process that divided the country and has pushed the nation to this inflection point, which has led to a drop in the shekel, a fear for the future of the economy and an unprecedented movement of IDF reservists who said they could no longer serve this government.
This all could have been avoided. Netanyahu could have engaged with the opposition from the outset and could have tried to pass legislation that had the support of both sides. Doing so would have made sense if he wanted to legislate reforms that were going to last. Doing what he did in this way meant that the next government – if led by someone from the Center-Left – could simply overturn what he had done, once again changing Israel’s democratic process.
This was a personal, not national, matter
But this was never about legislation that would have a lasting effect. This was about Netanyahu helping his trial, Levin exacting revenge on the court and Deri being able to serve as a minister. This was personal, not national. It was not for the country but for the few who claimed that their personal interest was what the country needed the most.
The hope now is that a real dialogue will begin. There are a number of possible venues and plans that can serve as the foundation. To show their sincerity, Netanyahu, opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz should meet on Tuesday at the President’s Residence and begin talks on a new legislative agenda.
There is not a lot of trust between these men. Netanyahu cheated Gantz three years ago when he promised no “shticks or tricks” when forming a unity government, and proceeded to trick him all the way to a new election. Lapid has said repeatedly over the years that he does not believe a word Netanyahu says. Netanyahu fears that both men want to find a way to remove him from office, and that opposing the reforms was just an excuse.
They all have reason to be suspicious but they now need to engage, talk and look for common ground. From their perspective, this comes with a risk but that is needed right now. Israel needs to find a way to move forward.