Israel is waking up to a new reality this morning, with the announcement of an indictment against Netanyahu over Breach of Trust and Bribery charges. It seems clear to me that the justice system the police and the media have cooperated in a coup to overthrow the Right and Bibi, in particular. The Left wing has dominated both the Legislature and the Media since the establishment of the State. The Left has realized that the only way to dump Bibi is through alternative means as the electorate has consistently voted Right wing since the Oslo debacle. The investigative infractions by the police, with the prosecution’s encouragement, over the three year Netanyahu investigation, as well as the clear one sided judicial rulings regarding his cases, are an indication that we need much clearer separation of powers as well as some kind of regulatory system to insure proper working of the legislative and executive branches of government. This will be the challenge of the coming government and the faster they get to it, the better, before a rapid decline in the quality of our Democracy takes hold.
Netanyahu’s future as the leader of the Likud is shaky, despite what presently seems to be an iron clad support of his role in the party. It is his desire to utilize every iota of the basic law to allow himself the ability to continue to lead the country, but his chances of winning an election with an indictment hanging over his head are slim. Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz are capable of reaching a clear majority. Despite Gantz’s claim of a great victory (Blue & White received one seat more than Netanyahu’s Likud party), he has proven to be a weakling who cannot even put his own party heads in their places and avoid the quibbling over the finer points of negotiation. He has even come out whining over their lack of cooperation and complaining that because of them he is not PM. Netanyahu’s obsession with power has blinded him to the necessity of working with others in his party. As a result he has adopted ministry after ministry which he will need to relieve himself of now that the indictment has been made against him. He has run the country, largely by himself, as he has difficulty trusting anyone who might become a threat to his leadership. Strangely enough, under indictment, he is legally allowed to continue as PM, yet not as a minister.
So where do we go from here? Legally, the Knesset now has a 21 day period to come up with a way to solve the mystery and form a government, or we face yet another expensive election in which it is altogether possible we will reach the same stalemate. The Knesset can attempt to form a creative coalition and can even choose a third candidate from among the Knesset members, to form a coalition. My question is; Who is a possible candidate for such an option if it is clear that neither major contender is capable of garnering 61 votes?
Whoever it is, should be someone who has a squeaky clean and honest reputation and is respected by both the Left and the Right. If one were able to detach the personal from the political stands represented in the two major blocks, there is much more that unites them than separates them, so it is altogether possible that a third person or an alternate Likud representative could succeed in forming a coalition. It is quite inaccurate to assume that the Israeli electorate is evenly split between Left and Right as many of those who voted for Gantz’s Blue & White were actually quite right wing in their stands concerning the Palestinian issue and a two state solution, the handling of Iran and other security oriented issues. I venture to say that even issues related to Religion and State could have been bridged well enough to include the Haredi parties in a coalition, had the personal issues been resolved. To put it bluntly, honor, pride, power and personal vendettas got in the way. I think it is fair to say that many of those who voted for Blue & White, did so to keep Bibi out, feeling that he has overstayed his welcome after 13 years or having been disenchanted in him throughout the well-publicized, leaky investigation. As the old Jewish analogy goes, ‘Once the feathers of the pillow have been released into the wind, it’s impossible to collect them all and place them back into the pillow.’ So it is, with the impressions and conclusions each of us have formed as a result of the lengthy, dirty investigation. Those impressions are likely to stay with many of us forever more, despite the possibility of his being proven innocent of the major charges against him.
So then again, who among our Knesset members could take a 61-vote victory and lead this country if both Gantz and Netanyahu are unable to? In the U.S. there is a position called Vice President, which kicks in when the President is unable to fulfill his duties for any reason. The position of ‘Sgan Rosh Ha Memshala (VPM)’ here in Israel doesn’t hold that kind of weight. It is mainly a technical position, while the PM is out of the country and as such, not much thought is taken when such a person is chosen. In the U.S. when both the VP and the President become unable to fulfill the responsibilities of leadership, the Speaker of the House steps in to take on the job. We happen to have a very respectable, dignified and well- liked Speaker of the House, Yuli Edlestein, who could theoretically become a candidate for such a position, though many perceive him to be too weak and lacking in charisma. I happen to disagree with that assessment. I think he is certainly not as weak as Gantz has proven to be and we all know that someone with too much self-confidence just might allow his impulsiveness to get the best of him and in so doing, place us in danger. Charisma has been quite overrated. Obama was charismatic and his smooth talk got him a win twice, but he proved to be the flop of the century, topping even Carter in the race for worst President in U.S. history.
Gideon Saar is an outspoken, gutsy Likud Knesset member, who has held the #2 spot in the Likud, served as Netanyahu’s Education minister and is widely thought to be the front runner after Netanyahu’s time is up. Even before the Netanyahu indictment was announced, he took the plunge and came out publicly to demand primaries within the Likud and expressed his desire to run. At present, he is the only Likud member who is willing to oppose Netanyahu in Likud primaries as everyone else is still busy kissing up to Bibi in hopes for a better position in the next coalition. I think that shows that Gideon Saar has what it takes to be a leader rather than a follower. ‘Be the Head and not the Tail’ as we say on Rosh Ha Shana. The rest of the Likud members of Knesset, cannot even perceive of a Likud without Bibi at its head. Those, such as Benny Begin, who dared to disagree with Netanyahu and voice criticism at his cut throat rule within the party, have left politics out of disgust, and have joined the ranks of private citizenry. Gideon Saar took a leave of absence for a while, for personal reasons, widely believed to be because of Netanyahu’s alienating him from power once he identified Saar as a threat. He has returned in full strength and has waited in the wings for just the right moment to pursue the position of leadership within the Likud. That opportunity has just blossomed.
I would really like to come up with a politician on the other side of the political arena who garners great respect and experience and who might be able to take on the position of PM, but alas, I suppose my being a right winger at heart, may have something to do with my inability to find a worthy candidate. Personalities such as Ehud Barak , Amir Peretz, Orly Levy or Tamar Zandberg, just didn’t cut it.
I even entertained the idea of someone on the Right, such as Naftali Bennett, taking over the role as forming a coalition. I have always been impressed with him on a personal level, though he has made some major miscalculations over the past few months when trying to figure out which party he is in. That was disappointing and thus I have almost completely eliminated him as a possibility. Of course, he is a highly successful and intelligent man who learns quickly and can be perceived as ‘middle of the road’ on religious issues which could do him well in negotiating between the secular population and the Haredim. As a sign of just how desperate Netanyahu became over the coalition negotiations, he appointed Bennett as Defense Minister, a position Bennett will hold at least until a coalition is formed, which could give him the opportunity to prove that he is worthy of leadership and capable of taking on serious responsibilities. He certainly did start off his career with a bang, when the day after taking on the position of Defense Minister, Israel was bombarded with over 400 missiles from Gaza’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Less than two weeks later, under Bennett’s instructions, the Israeli Air Force took out major Syrian and Iranian military positions in Syria, destroying weapons and killing 23 military personnel, in what is widely seen as having opened a clear path of conflict with Iran. So it is possible that he isn’t as many thought, just a big talker.
Ayelet Shaked shows promise but is still considered to be a woman without a clear party. Were she to join the Likud, I believe she would have a possibility of a good future in the party and could climb the ranks quickly as she is sharp and willing to put her money where he mouth is. She did a great job attempting to make a dent in the right direction while serving as Justice Minister but unfortunately wasn’t able to serve long enough to finish the job. She knows when to keep her mouth shut during interviews and despite her youth, she has garnered a great deal of political experience in her short time in politics. I believe she doesn’t have the wide range of respect needed yet to be asked to form a coalition and serve as PM. She was busy behind the scenes throughout the coalition negotiations, hopping between Liberman and the Haredim, attempting to bridge gaps. She is open minded and accessible to parties of varying viewpoints, a characteristic that a good leader needs.
There is the possibility that Blue & White will split into two parties as there is plenty of conflict between the four heads. With Lapid out of Gantz’s range, and on his own in his Yesh Atid Party, if new elections are held, there is the possibility that Gantz will be willing to make the concessions needed to join the Likud in a coalition. That can only happen after the 21-day period in which the Knesset fails its mandate and new elections are held. Of course, the results of that new election remain to be seen and no one knows just how the count will go.
In any event, the next few weeks promise to be exciting and full of unusual goings on in the Knesset. I truly hope that an alternative leader for the Likud is chosen and that he/she be someone who has spent time close to Netanyahu and has hopefully learned the ropes, as Netanyahu was certainly a pro in all categories of leadership. His achievements are too lengthy to list here, and he will be a hard act to follow, but it is my hope that Netanyahu himself will use this opportunity to assist the Likud in restructuring itself and preparing itself to lead the country either in a Unity government or after a win in third elections. At present, it seems he has no intention of doing that and sees his new fight as one to the finish. ‘Tamut Nafshi im Ha Plishtim’ comes to mind, only this time, the Jews are the Plishtim!