The bitter spirits in which PM Netanyahu finds himself during what might be the final days of his rule have reminded me of an episode of Roman history that deserves a reference.
When General Sulla Felix decided he had done the deed and the Republic was strong enough to survive its mighty leader, he presented himself before the Senate and renounced the dictatorship he had assumed 3 years before. Just minutes later, as he was a private citizen again, he was interrupted while walking through the streets and heckled by some passers-by. He then turned to a friend of his and murmured, ‘Will there ever be any other tyrant willing to quit power, if that is the reward?’.
In other words, how quickly and ungratefully a system can manage without those who appeared indispensable to its functioning. Also, how difficult it is for a decadal ruler to accept defeat. The almost-omnipotent outgoing Prime Minister must be reflecting on these themes as he prepares to leave Balfour Street in gloomy fashion – and possibly the nation too, as Barak Ravid has recently suggested. And fierce disappointment seems to have infected his supporters as well.
Up to today, the Trumpian-style turmoils promoted by Likud and the rabbis haven’t made any Yamina MK defect from the alternative majority. They have only prove useful to show the state of anguish that permeates the religious nationalist milieu, a social group that is going to lose its grip on power after many prosperous years in cabinet. As Bibi goes, the sun sets on the Ultra-Orthodox parties as well.
The public and the press seem to agree: the ‘change government’ will probably come. Agitation is tangible and excitement too. As Mao put it, ‘Great chaos under Heaven – the situation is excellent’. And Finance Minister-designate Lieberman, who must feel euphoric to see the Haredim despair, may very well agree with him in this case.
Other parallelisms between the Bennett-Lapid Government in the making and Latin chronicles might emerge, such as the peculiar resemblance between bicephalous nature of the Roman consular system and the Israeli rotation government paradigm, that will see two Prime Ministers reigning at a time. But it’s elsewhere that I’m driving at.
After the 1993 Japanese general election, the ruling right-wing Liberal Democratic Party found itself incapable of forming a government for the first time in decades. A multi-coloured coalition took the reins instead. It was composed of 8 parties, hailing from the traditional left, the middle class-oriented centre and even some conservative groups that had abandoned the LDP. Also, the alliance was backed by a religious political party, the Buddhist Komeito. It’s impossible for us all not to notice the historical recurrence between those events and what Israel might experience in a short time. I will try to reflect on the lessons we can learn from that specifical episode.
Now, except for the leader of the Islamist party Ra’am, Mr. Abbas, who was ready to make deals with Likud, everybody else in the coalition hates Netanyahu. While Horowitz and Michaeli might detest him for his reactionary and militaristic policies, the others (Gantz, Sa’ar, Lapid, and Bennett) likely have personal reasons to feel animosity towards the man that broke every promise he made to them throughout the years. Their resentment is understandable and even commendable, considering that these people are putting their carreers in danger because of it. Bennett spoke on Saturday about his willingness to put country first, swallow the hatred he and his party are attracting for making deals with progressives, and risk it all now, embarking on this political adventure. We have no reason to doubt about the sincerity of his commitment, but will it be enough?
Coalitions built against somebody start lacking cement as soon as the enemy is tamed. The Japanese ‘change government’ experience is there to prove it. The LDP had simply been unbeatable in elections for decades: it had money to fund the campaigns and strategies to appeal to voters. But as soon as it was ousted from power, the eight parties deluded themselves into thinking it was possible to exclude the long-time dominant faction from the political stage, erode its strenght and create a new multiparty hegemony. They even passed an electoral reform specifically designed to hurt the Liberal Democrats’ chances of winning again. As soon as the bill was approved, the coalition lost its unifying mission and collapsed very soon. Hosokawa-sama, the young and brilliant Prime Minister that some compared to Kennedy, was backed solely by his miniscule party and fell from irreplaceable to forgettable. His government had lasted only one year and did not achieve its goal of regenerating the political system. The LDP retrieved power very soon and, with the mere expection of the 2009-2012 period, never lost it again.
To summarise: the anti-Bibi bloc must find a common purpose to co-operate, or the disbandment is inevitable (likely to occur if Bennett and Lapid are unable to pass the budget, as Haaretz reports); hoping to replace Likud with these brand-new lilliputian factions (New Hope, Yamina) is pure self-deception, because Netanyahuism is here to stay; and finally, Bennett won’t be able to sleep very comfortably in the next few months, knowing that every night may be his last as PM, party leader, and politician. And, just like his mentor Bibi, he might very soon find out what Sulla meant with those bitter remarks.