Naftali Bennet may become Israel’s new Kingmaker

It seems that the stronger the protests against Netanyahu are growing, the chances of ending his era are lowering. While the protestors have specific demands, they are not willing to get messy and work on setting a political alternative.

Yair Lapid, head of the opposition in the Knesset, enjoys only a limited amount of support from the Israeli public. Instead of offering practical solutions or any sort of political alternative to the Government’s mismanagement of the crisis in Israel, Lapid is busy clashing with Netanyahu’s personality. Maybe he should take a lesson or two from his old-time “Brother”, Naftali Bennet, who stays quit about Netanyahu’s corruption cases, but slams the government all the time around its helplessness. Bennet is offering practical solutions in a simple language, and that is why his popularity is gaining in the polls with 18 mandates given (In the polls).

The protestors are asking for corruption-free governance, which is a very important demand. But they lack a contingency plan. A political demand needs to come with an alternative, and the opposition is weaker than ever in Israel. Netanyahu’s era will end sooner or later, but if the Center-Left parties in Israel will continue to act the way they act, the Right-wing – Ultra-Orthodox coalition will continue to rule.

For now, Netanyahu is trying to bend Gantz’s hand around the budget question. When the coalition was formed, it was agreed that the budget voted will be for the years 2020-2021. But now, Netanyahu, who for years was promoting a two-year budget chose to pass a 4 months budget. Why? The signs were there from the beginning. Nobody believed that the romance between Gantz and Netanyahu was meant to last. If to be exact, the majority of people in Israel who were eager for a “Unity” government did not trust Netanyahu’s intention to honor the agreement. Not even his supporters, the Likud party voters.

So why is Netanyahu so busy playing “Chicken” with Gantz? It’s quite simple – Gantz has no credibility from the public. Netanyahu knows that with the “On Par (Equal) government” trap, he ended Gantz’s chances of challenging him as an alternative. Gantz, who walked to this trap with eyes open wide, chose Netanyahu over his alliance with Yair Lapid. Someone like Gantz was expected to do his homework and learn from the bitter experience of Netanyahu’s former challengers. It is a long list with former politicians such as Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid & Isaac (Buji) Herzog. All of them believed that they could have influence from within a Netanyahu led government and that Netanyahu can be trusted. In the end, they and all were all run over by Netanyahu. All but Lapid have evaporated from the political sphere.

Netanyahu is a wise politician. The polls show that the mandates the Likud loses in a possible 4th election stay withing the right-wing bloc. Former Likud voters are now flocking to Naftali Bennett and his far-right Yamina party. If the elections were today Netanyahu would have no problems forming a narrow coalition of a right-wing – Ultra-Orthodox coalition, leaving Avigdor Lieberman, the former kingmaker, powerless in the opposition. But the elections are not today and Netanyahu knows that 3 months is a really long time period in politics so things can shift. Netanyahu likes his partners week and beaten, so Bennett gaining power is something that Netanyahu dislikes.

So, there are two more scenarios which are possible:

In the first scenario, Netanyahu will break the deal with Gantz and will reach out to Bennet on behalf of the “Nations interest” in order to prevent 4th election. He will do so after closing a deal with the following deserters – Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser of “Derech Eretz” (Run under formerly from Gantz’s Blue and White party), Pnina Tamano-Shata (formerly from Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party), Rabbi Rafi Peretz (formerly Yamina) and Orly Levy-Abwkasis (head of the Gesher Party) who was the first to break the “No to Netanyahu” bloc and took her mandate from the joint Labor/Meretz/Gesher Party into the coalition. We may even have another deserter – Omer Yankelevich of Blue and White, who is an Ultra-Orthodox woman and even though she is close with Ganz, she is not committed like any other players mentioned. These “deserter” politicians all share the same interest, they cannot go to a 4th election. The reason being is that none of them are popular enough on their own to stand a chance in a 4th election. If Israel goes to another election, Hendel, Hauser, Tamano-Shata, and Levy will all find themselves with no votes, and thus out of the Knesset, this is a big reason why it can be easy for Netanyahu to keep them on his side and in his government. The “deserters” combined with Bennett’s Yamina party allows Netanyahu to form a narrow coalition without Benny Gantz’s party, and hold power.

The 2nd scenario proves that Naftali Bennett holds the key to Israel’s future government. Bennett sees himself as Netanyahu’s successor leading the right-wing in Israel. But Bennett never dared to challenge Netanyahu nor to attack him publicly as so far it seemed like turning his back to his voters. But the circumstances have changed and more and more people from the right-wing are admitting that Netanyahu is steering the whole system towards his own interests, in a way the hurts the State of Israel and the people, including right-wing voters. A lot of people are tired of the corruption and the hedonistic way of life of the Netanyahu family. And Bennett can be the one to end Netanyahu’s political career.

If Bennett is sure that Netanyahu will intend to dissolve the government, he can promote legislation saying that indicted person can not become a Prime Minister (Blue and White used this law as a pressure barrier on Netanyahu in the past and the left-wing Meretz party is attempting to bring this law again). This law, if passed, will throw the Likud party into chaos. Allowing Bennett to become the next leader of the Israeli right-wing.

So far Bennett has proven he is a strong speaker but weak in performance. Will he dare to challenge the old lion? Time will tell.

About the Author
Yaakov (Kobi) Cohen is an Israeli-American, born in Jerusalem and now reside to New York City where he works in a Jewish Non-for-Profit. As a political activist, Cohen is most interested in the Israeli-American Jewish relationship and its impact on the future of the Jewish world and seeking to build bridges between Israelis & Jewish Americans, or at least establish a different dialogue. Kobi is a co-founder of Israel Shelanu and Host of BALAGAN - Explaining Israeli Politics Podcast
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