It seems that the penny dropped only on Sunday afternoon. The formal announcement by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin that a new government would be sworn in within a week brought home the message. Lawmakers and ministers from Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties finally got it that cleaving to Benjamin Netanyahu had led them into a political deathtrap.
Just like he dragged them into four consecutive elections, he’s now dragging them into the opposition, who knows for how long. He is their collective punishment even though they don’t think they sinned. This makes their subdued conduct even more puzzling, an obligatory class in studying the “March of Folly” of political action. And they were considered sagacious Jews.
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Behind closed doors, Haredi politicians are desperately trying to consider doing what Gideon Sa’ar proposed right after the election: having Netanyahu step aside. He would be replaced by another Likud member, and a rightist-Haredi government with at least 65 lawmakers (if not 73) would be formed, without anymore bother.
There are rumors that Netanyahu is now considering this. But the stable has long been empty. He’s missed the opportunity, just as he’s missed others along the way. Each time the noose around his neck tightened, he returned to offers made weeks earlier.
The discourse around him is getting more hostile and bitter daily. If he was aware of what’s said behind his back by most of the senior Likud leaders, the panic and loss of reason that he exudes would increase immensely. He doesn’t understand to what extent the fabric surrounding him is shredding. This trend will only intensify when members of the party believing itself “born to rule” find themselves ousted from their ministerial bureaus, severed from their gigantic team of assistants and all the other perks of office they regarded as permanent.
The (partial) publication of the coalition agreements on Sunday revealed two important, unprecedented items. One of these tethers Bennett to the present (nascent) government, determining that if he joins an alternative coalition, he cannot be appointed to any ministerial position. The other item prohibits Netanyahu from running for Knesset for four years following eight years in office. This is without doubt an ingenious move. If the original anti-Bibi law had passed, he would be running a campaign to change it. Now he will be precluded from doing so.
This sneaky item takes the wind out of his promise of an imminent return. Gulliver awoke and found himself tied down with a thousand steel cables by the Lilliputians Bennett, Lapid, Lieberman and Sa’ar. For years, he despised them, mocked them, excluding and humiliating them. Now, on his way down, he’s seeing them all.
Even if Speaker Levin abuses his powers and sets the swearing in for next Monday, the latest date possible, the change coalition is a fait accompli. Bennett has no way back. If some Yamina lawmaker takes fright, a Joint List member will hospitalize himself and the majority will be achieved.