Sheldon Kirshner

Netanyahu Can’t Accept The Loss of His Premiership

Benjamin Netanyahu is having a devilishly hard time internalizing the harsh reality that his days as Israel’s prime minister are behind him.

From the moment he stepped down from his post on June 13 and was replaced by Naftali Bennett, his former cabinet colleague and defence minister, Netanyahu has been on the offensive in his new role as opposition leader.

Netanyahu’s objective is crystal clear — to undermine Bennett’s diverse coalition government, which is composed of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties and is backed from the outside by an Arab party.

Netanyahu and his supporters in the Likud Party claim the premiership was stolen from him in light of the fact that Bennett’s Yamina Party emerged with only seven seats after the last election in March, while the Likud Party won the greatest number of seats.

Netanyahu charges that the new government is “elitist” and even “illegitimate, and that Bennett — a member of the nationalist religious camp whose views are generally to the right of Netanyahu — is a “conman” who has aligned himself with left-wing and anti-Zionist politicians so as to remain in power.

Netanyahu has not wasted any time attacking Bennett. Immediately after being forced to step down after 12 consecutive years in office, he launched a diatribe against Bennett. “Try to damage as little as possible the magnificent economy we are handing over to you, so that we can fix it as fast as possible when we return,” he said condescendingly in the Knesset.

Displaying dripping contempt toward Bennett, who was a prosperous high-tech entrepreneur before entering politics, Netanyahu claimed he lacked the credibility, ability or knowledge to govern and fend off the external challenges Israel faces.

As far as Netanyahu is concerned, he is indispensable, the only politician who can successfully manage Israel’s domestic and external affairs.

For two weeks after Bennett was sworn into office, Netanyahu’s website continued to refer to him as prime minister. And in a telling demonstration of his difficulty in letting go of the perks of office, he and his family failed to vacate the prime minister’s residence in western Jerusalem until public pressure was brought on them to leave so that Bennett could move in.

Since then, Netanyahu has repeatedly shown he has not really come to terms with his his new situation.

Shortly after leaving office, he received a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin thanking him for strengthening Russia’s bilateral relations with Israel. “Your capabilities and experience will always be an asset to Israel,” Putin wrote. After receiving the letter from Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov, Netanyahu is reported to have responded, “Tell President Putin I will be back soon.”

Last week, Netanyahu claimed that Bennett is not a “real” prime minister. As he put it, “When I was three years old, I arranged the chairs in the living room, added wings, sat down and said, ‘I’m a pilot, I’m flying a plane,’ but I wasn’t a pilot. I was sitting in a chair pretending to be a pilot.

“When a three-year-old does that, it’s cute. When Bennett sits in the prime minister’s chair and says,’I’m a pilot, I’m flying this plane … he isn’t making decisions. He may be prime minister by title, but he isn’t a really prime minister. It isn’t cute, it’s pathetic and even dangerous. It’s all pretending.”

Netanyahu added that Bennett has “no vision, policy or achievements. He’s simply not a leader. The public feels like it’s all fake because in this government everyone does whatever they want. Cabinet ministers don’t care what Bennett thinks.”

Around the same time, at a ceremony marking the departure of Nadav Argaman, the outgoing director of the Shin Bet intelligence agency, Netanyahu greeted dignitaries in the audience. Conspicuously enough, he failed to acknowledge Bennett, prompting some people to shout, “There’s a prime minister here.”

Stung by the snub, Bennett wrote in a Facebook post, “The unpleasantness during such a dignified and moving event was a  shame. I wasn’t the only one shifting uncomfortably in my seat. I hope the opposition chairman will understand that political disagreements are a natural thing. But undermining the legitimacy of a government in Israel is dangerous.”

As Israeli commentators have pointed out, Netanyahu is relentlessly attacking Bennett’s government in the hope that it will crash and burn and enable him to resume his former role as prime minister.

Netanyahu’s ambition may be misplaced. Bennett and the alternate prime minister, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, are proceeding cautiously, knowing full well that Netanyahu has set his sights on them.

In any event, Netanyahu faces two obstacles in his quest to make a comeback.

First, his leadership has been challenged. Yuli Edelstein, the former health minister and ex-speaker of the Knesset, has announced his intention to run against Netanyahu. “With Benjamin Netanyahu, we failed four times to muster a government,” he said in reference to Netanyahu’s failure to form a government after four consecutive elections in two years. “How are we suddenly going to succeed on the fifth time?

Second, Netanyahu’s former associate, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, is reportedly ready to introduce a bill that would prevent a Knesset member charged with a serious crime from forming a government. The pending legislation does not name Netanyahu, and Sa’ar disingenuously denies it is aimed at him.

But it is perfectly clear that Netanyahu, having been indicted by the former attorney-general on criminal charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, could be severely affected by this proposed bill.

Netanyahu’s hopes of reclaiming the premiership may be nothing  more than a cherished dream.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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