Calling Netanyahu’s Bluff

Less then one week before the upcoming elections there seems to be a consensus among Israeli political analysts that Benjamin Netanyahu will head the next Israeli government. Most analysts also believe that Netanyahu will be able to choose between two options. The first, creating a coalition with his “natural partners”- the right wing and Haridi parties, and the second, creating a national-unity government with various parties from the center-left bloc such as the Labor party or Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid ”. 

Despite the fact that all major parties in the center left-left bloc have announced that they will not be part of a right wing-Haridi government, Benjamin Netanyahu is certain that he will be able to lure them into his next coalition. And why not? If Israeli history has taught us one thing it’s to ignore statements made by left wing parties regarding their willingness to join a right wing government, no matter how extreme.

Israel’s Labor party, for instance, has an exemplary record of joining right wing governments as soon as the polls close. Every few years this party signs a disgraceful agreement with a newly elected Prime Minister and always under the same pretense: “Israel faces monumental challenges”, “It’s time to put petty politics aside” and my favorite “Labor will be more influential from within the government than as a member of the opposition”.

But will Benjamin Netanyahu really be able to form  a government consisting only of the right wing and Haridi parties? Is a Likud led coalition consisting of Israel Beiteinu, The Jewish Home and Shas a viable option? Or is it merely a bluff intended to make it easier for the center-left parties to join Netanyahu’s next government?

In a right wing-Haridi coalition, the Prime Minister will be forced to dedicate most of his time to damage control, and as we learned from the Carmel Fire, Netanyahu is not all that good in damage control. The Prime Minister will have to deal with Moshe Faiglin who will make use of his immunity as a member of the Knesset in order to pray on the Temple Mount from dusk till dawn. Members of Netanyahu’s government will flock to CNN’s television studios of in order to denounce Mahmud Abbas, the “enemy” of peace. Likud members such as Miri Regev and Danny Danon will use their new status as high ranking members of the government in order to examine the workings of left wing oriented NGOs and the new Deputy Minister from the Jewish Home party, Orit Struck, will promote her plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

Such a government is sure to be condemned by the international community. Although the Prime Minister repeatedly reminds Israelis that he does not accept ultimatums from the international community, one should bear in mind that it is this community, headed by the US, that lead him to the Bar Ilan speech, to freezing all construction in the settlements and to concluding the Pillar of Defense operation with a de facto recognition of Hamas’ rule over the Gaza strip. Should the PM be forced to make gestures towards the Palestinians in the future, he would immediately lose his “natural” partners who will abandon his coalition in protest.

A right wing-Haridi government is one destined to collapse within months. Such a government would force the PM towards the extreme thereby isolating him and paralyzing him. All that the center-left bloc has to do in order to topple this government is serve as a vocal opposition and call Netanyahu’s bluff. Yet this is highly unlikely as the temptation to sit on a Minister’s chair has proven too great for left wing Israeli politicians. 

The first to break ranks might be Yair Lapid. It is hard to believe that Mr. Lapid left his position as Israel’s leading anchorman in order to serve a member of some godforsaken Knesset committee. However, Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the Labor party, is also a prime candidate for abandoning her post. Once the elections are over, the vultures will begin to circle above her head demanding she lead the way into Netanyahu’s warm embrace. Faced with the task of going back on her election promises, Yachimovich will state that the PM has assured her that he plans to make progress with the Palestinians and that without Labor Israel will be led by a hardline right wing government that shall undermine its democratic foundations.

Joining the next Netanyahu government will serve as yet another blow to the Israeli left wing, a political entity that seems to have lost its way as it wonders  through the corridors of the Knesset. If the center-left bloc has any aspiration of regaining power it must remain in the opposition and formulate a new platform with which to regain the trust of the Israeli electorate. 

Ilan Manor



About the Author
Ilan Manor is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to the Jerusalem Post, +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought magazine. His Hebrew-language blog has been featured several times in the Israeli press.