On Monday Netanyahu Was Toasting Victory. Now He’s Toast.
The majority Netanyahu expected in the Knesset never materialized. But another majority pulled together to block an indicted politician like him from forming a government.
JERUSALEM—An elated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu roared “this is the biggest victory of my life!”—but that was Monday.
By Thursday, his voice hoarse, a tired Netanyahu growled, “We won’t let them steal the election!” In the words of Netanyahu’s centrist rival and Israel’s probable next prime minister, Benny Gantz, “Someone here celebrated too early.”
Then came a remarkable cascade of bad news for Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, and its first to be indicted while in office.
Avigdor Lieberman, his onetime defense minister and now a fearsome nemesis, announced his support for a law proposed by Gantz, a former army chief of staff, which would bar an indicted legislator from being appointed to form the government.
Such a law would eliminate any route to immediate political survival for Netanyahu, whose trial in three separate cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is scheduled to open in Jerusalem District Court on March 17.
In an almost unseen instance of Israeli multi-partisanship that Israeli media call “the anti-Bibi coalition,” this law enjoys the support of 62 members of the 120-member Knesset, from the majority-Arab Joint List through the left-wing Labor Party, and now, unto Lieberman, a hardline secular right-winger.
Further, Lieberman, who holds seven potentially king-making Knesset seats, announced that he would recommend Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin choose Gantz to form the next government.
It is the third election in under a year in which Netanyahu—and Gantz—have failed to secure an operating majority of the Knesset, but for Netanyahu the stakes are higher.
Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York and adviser to former prime minister Ehud Barak, noted in an interview with The Daily Beast, that, “For the third time in one year, Netanyahu pushed for an election with one goal in mind: getting a 61-seat majority to grant him an immunity from prosecution over three severe indictments he is facing. For the third time he failed.”
Netanyahu “could not form a government in April 2019, September 2019 and he cannot and will not form a government following the March 2020 election,” said Pinkas. “Cut the electorate however you want, in all three instances a majority sent a resounding ‘no’ to his anti-democratic, anti-legal, it’s-all-about-me message.”
And Netanyahu was about to receive another blow.
Late Thursday, Moshe Yaalon, another former army chief of staff and the most hardline rightist in the Gantz centrist coalition, agreed to support a minority government led by Gantz, with the support of the Joint List, the Arab-majority party that leapt from 13 Knesset seats to 15 even as Netanyahu intensified his attack on Arab citizens, who form 21 percent of Israel’s population.
“Gantz is joining forces with terror supporters!” Netanyahu declared in a meeting of his coalition members. “Gantz's move undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy and subverts the will of the voter. We’ll stand strong against it.”
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, 45, a Haifa attorney and one of the election's biggest winners, replied that, “Netanyahu wouldn't recognize what democracy is.”
“Pack your things, Bibi,” Odeh tweeted. “You're going home."
As the situation unfolded Thursday night, Netanyahu asked his attorney general to “immediately” open a criminal investigation into alleged Lieberman electoral shenanigans a decade ago. Lieberman responded with a press release: seven laughing/crying emojis and not a single word.
By dawn on Friday, an increasingly cornered Netanyahu was accusing Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, who chairs Israel’s electoral commission, the body responsible for counting the votes, of criminal malfeasance. Netanyahu promised to petition the supreme court to investigate Hendel’s political affiliations.
The commission condemned any implication of impropriety and Gantz posted that “counting all the votes, including those of citizens under quarantine due to fears of the coronavirus, is the basis of a democratic country, and one must respect the results and the voters’ choice—and no less the work of the Electoral Commission.”
Former Chief of Staff Yaalon noted darkly that, “Netanyahu is refusing to respect the results of the election. His incitement could lead to a political assassination.”
Acknowledging Netanyahu’s “cult following of around 20 or 30 seats that thinks he’s a god-send and indispensable national treasure,” Pinkas said, “a majority thinks perhaps it’s time to go.”
How did this happen?
Relying on exit polls, Monday’s Netanyahu believed that counting his own party’s votes and those of his coalition partners, he had secured 60 out of the Israeli parliament’s 120 seats, and would find a way to squeak by on a narrow majority.
One route appeared to be poaching wavering opposition legislators. In a television interview on Tuesday, Netanyahu spokesman Yonatan Orich foresaw that “the establishment of a government is a matter of a few days.”
“We’ve already spoken with four to six opposition Knesset members,” he said. But the targeted legislators each denied any chance of their possible defection. “Nonsense. It won’t happen,” tweeted Omer Yankelevich, a young rising star in Gantz’s Blue and White, whom Netanyahu’s Likud party threatened to blackmail by releasing videos of her that were of a “personal nature.”
As Netanyahu increasingly catered in recent years to the demands of religious-right-wing coalition partners who squeezed him for funding and favorable policies in exchange for their support, his base has shrunk from a once loose, wide-tent alliance of conservative voters to a smaller clique of true believers.
The Nation-State Law, which he passed in July 2018 to satisfy the ultra-right-wingers in his cabinet, may have lost him the election.
The law has no practical effect, but by declaring that only Jews in Israel have “the right to exercise national self-determination,” and by downgrading Arabic from an official language to one with an undefined “special status,” Netanyahu alienated the last traditional rule-of-law Likud voters while kicking out of the tent conservative Arabs and the Druze, a minority group that traditionally supported the Likud.
Druze voters who once gave the party over 90 percent of their ballots have switched en masse to Gantz, whose first campaign promise was to amend the law. Fewer than 10 percent of Druze votes went to Netanyahu on Monday.
“The Druze vote should be seen as a protest against the Likud and against the right, who betrayed them with the Nation-State Law,” said Amal Asad, a retired Israeli army general and leader of the protest movement against the law told The Daily Beast. “With the cameras rolling, the Blue and White leadership promised us they would fix it. That is what the Druze voted for.”
Meanwhile, votes were being counted. Over two and a half days, the Likud’s coalition slipped from an high of 60 seats to 59 to 58, where it hovered for a day before the pollsters’ disbelieving eyes.
Odeh said his party gained 20,000 new ballots from leftwing Jewish voters "disgusted” by the right-wing establishment.
A generation of Israelis has known no other prime minister than Netanyahu, who has been in office for close to 12 years. As Israel’s political arena appeared to veer close to the danger zone, Gantz felt he had to reassure Israelis that “there will be no civil war.”
3. "Most likely it means another election (SWIPE)" In response to Reply # 0
Short version: As alluded to in the first article, Netanyahu being "out" is predicated on a secular right party potentially backing a law that would prevent him from being Prime Minister. However, if they don't decide to back it, or the court strikes the law down, it would necessitate a fourth election.
Netanyahu keeps moving to the right with each subsequent election, I can't imagine there's much space left for him to go.
Prolonged paralysis in Israel could save it from disaster
By Editorial Board March 6, 2020 at 11:57 a.m. PST
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU’S claim of a “huge victory” in Monday’s Israeli election has turned out to be premature. The veteran prime minister thought he had broken a political impasse that has forced Israelis to vote three times in the last 10 months, and had won a new mandate after 11 years in office. But final results on Wednesday showed that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and its right-wing coalition were still three votes short of a majority in the Knesset, or parliament. That probably spells a prolongation of the country’s political paralysis, but it also might save it from a larger disaster.
A foundation of Mr. Netanyahu’s latest campaign was the plan for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement rolled out by President Trump in January, seemingly in a deliberate effort to boost one of his most sycophantic foreign allies. Instantly rejected by the Palestinians and Arab states, the plan has little chance of engendering peace. Its real import is to provide U.S. backing for Israel’s unilateral annexation of large parts of the West Bank, a long-standing aspiration of far-right nationalists.
Mr. Netanyahu, who previously avoided such radical action, promised during the campaign to proceed with the annexations if he were able to form a new government with Likud’s right-wing allies. He no longer appears concerned about the possible consequences — which could include a crisis with neighboring Jordan and an acceleration of the international boycott and divestment movement against Israel — perhaps because he now has the backing of Mr. Trump, whom he lauds as “the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House.”
Mr. Netanyahu will still be given the chance to form a government since the Likud party is the largest in the new parliament. He may try to induce a few individual members of the rival center-left alliance, led by the Blue and White party, to defect, or persuade Blue and White to form a broad “unity” government. But Blue and White and its leader, Benny Gantz, are likely to stick to the position that the party will not join any government under Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister because of his indictment and upcoming trial on corruption charges.
Instead, Mr. Gantz is seeking to gain support for a law that would prohibit Mr. Netanyahu from becoming prime minister while under indictment. That could break the political deadlock — and with a majority of 62 anti-Netanyahu members in the new Knesset, it has a chance to pass. If it fails, or court challenges block the law, Israel could be forced to stage elections once again.
That’s an exhausting prospect for the country’s politicians and voters, and it will mean the political rudderlessness will stretch past a year. But continued stasis would be preferable to actions that would make the eventual creation of a Palestinian state — and peace between it and Israel — all but impossible. In that sense, the curdling of Mr. Netanyahu’s “victory” should be welcomed by Israel’s friends.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival was chosen on Thursday as the new speaker of parliament, an unexpected step that could pave the way to a power-sharing deal between the two men as the country grapples with a worsening coronavirus crisis.
Israeli media reported that Gantz and Netanyahu were working on forming a broad coalition in which Netanyahu would remain as prime minister and Gantz’ party would be granted a number of important portfolios, including defense and justice. In September 2021, Netanyahu would step down and Gantz would become prime minister, the reports said.
14. "guess the tail failed to wag the dog. finally out?" In response to Reply # 0
https://twitter.com/axios/status/1398729931014742025 ----- BREAKING: The leader of Israel’s right-wing Yamina party will announce that he is joining opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a power-sharing government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, sources familiar with the issue tell Axios. -----
19. "Smh. Starting to side-eye tf out of these "rotation" deals." In response to Reply # 0
First of all, this Bennett dude is like Stephen Miller taking over for Trump
But apart from that
So Net's in a "rotation" deal right now with Gantz (the "moderate" of the two, although it feels pointless to distinguish since all these people are Zionists), whereby Gantz was supposed to take over as PM this October (or earlier, depending on Net's criminal cases):
However, now and oh so conveniently, Netanyahu's former (far) right hand man all of a sudden decides he can stomach forming a coalition with Yair Lapid (another moderate), where - again - the right-winger will be PM first??
Is it just me or are these right-wingers simply using the moderates to form government? Then, *conveniently* handing off power to each other before the moderate can take over leadership as per the arrangement?
Because the political agenda and hostility towards Palestinians would remain virtually unchanged between Netanyahu and Bennett. In contrast, their alternates (both Gantz and Lapid) are both open to engaging with the PA. Both Net and Bennett come across as spiteful ghouls who would rather die than hand over power to somewhat-PA-friendly moderates like Gantz and Lapid.
So if Bennett really does become PM (i.e. if Netanyahu finally gives up power, although with the recent UNHRC resolution to look into war crimes in Palestinian territories AND the charges he's already facing domestically, it's possible Net sees the writing on the wall)... the true tell will be if Lapid ever becomes PM as per this new "rotation" deal with Bennett. Bc if Bennett stays on or some other right-winger *conveniently* gets fed up with Bennett's leadership and takes over after him to continue the carnage, it'll become pretty obvious what's actually going on here.
23. "In some ways, Bennett is to the right of Netanyahu " In response to Reply # 19
which as you note is devastating to the prospect of reconciliation between Israel & Palestine - but also alarming in terms of electoral doubling down on the more extremist elements of the Netanyahu regime.
Israel swears in new coalition, ending Netanyahu's long rule By JOSEF FEDERMAN
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s parliament on Sunday narrowly approved a new coalition government, ending the historic 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sending the polarizing leader into the opposition.
Naftali Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu turned rival, became prime minister after the 60-59 vote. Promising to try to heal a divided nation, Bennett will preside over a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight parties with deep ideological differences.
But the 71-year-old Netanyahu made clear he has no intention of exiting the political stage. “If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country,” he said.
The vote, capping a stormy parliamentary session, ended a two-year cycle of political paralysis in which the country held four deadlocked elections. Those votes focused largely on Netanyahu’s divisive rule and his fitness to remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.
To his supporters, Netanyahu is a global statesman uniquely capable of leading the country through its many security challenges.
But to his critics, he has become a polarizing and autocratic leader who used divide-and-rule tactics to aggravate the many rifts in Israeli society. Those include tensions between Jews and Arabs, and within the Jewish majority between his religious and nationalist base and his more secular and dovish opponents.
Outside the Knesset, hundreds of protesters watching the vote on a large screen erupted into applause when the new government was approved. Thousands of people, many waving Israeli flags, gathered in central Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to celebrate.
President Joe Biden quickly congratulated the new government.
“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations,” he said in a statement after a G-7 meeting in England wrapped up. He said his administration is fully committed to working with the new government “to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”
Bennett tweeted: “Thank you Mr. President! I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties between our two nations.”
Much of the opposition to Netanyahu was personal. Three of the eight parties in the new government, including Bennett’s Yamina, are headed by former Netanyahu allies who share his hard-line ideology but had deep personal disputes with him.
Bennett, 49, is a former chief of staff to Netanyahu whose small party is popular with religious Jews and West Bank settlers. As he addressed the raucous debate, he was repeatedly heckled and shouted down by Netanyahu’s supporters. Some were removed from the chamber.
Bennett, an observant Jew, noted that the ancient Jewish people twice lost their homeland in biblical times due to bitter infighting.
“This time, at the decisive moment, we have taken responsibility,” he said. “To continue on in this way -- more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook -- is just not an option. Therefore we stopped the train, a moment before it barreled into the abyss.”
The new Cabinet met briefly, and Bennett recited a prayer for new beginnings and said it was time to mend rifts. “Citizens of Israel are all looking to us now, and the burden of proof is upon us,” he said.
Bennett, a millionaire former high-tech entrepreneur, faces a tough test maintaining an unwieldy coalition of parties from the political right, left and center.
The coalition, including a small Islamist faction that is making history as the first Arab party to sit in a coalition, agree on little beyond their opposition to Netanyahu. They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the U.S. without launching any major initiatives.
“We will forge forward on that which we agree -- and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side,” Bennett said. He also promised a “new page” in relations with Israel’s Arab sector.
Israel’s Arab citizens make up about 20% of the population, but have suffered from discrimination, poverty and lack of opportunities. Netanyahu has often tried portray Arab politicians as terrorist sympathizers, though he also courted the same Arab party in a failed effort to remain in power after March 23 elections.
Bennett, who like Netanyahu opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, made little mention of the Palestinians beyond threatening a tough response to violence. He also vowed, like Netanyahu, to oppose U.S.-led efforts to restore the international nuclear accord with Iran.
“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” he said. “Israel is not party to the agreement and will maintain full freedom to act.”
But he also thanked Biden for his support of Israel. He promised to take a different approach than Netanyahu, who has alienated much of the Democratic Party through his antagonistic relationship with then-President Barack Obama and close ties with former President Donald Trump.
“My government will make an effort to deepen and nurture relations with our friends in both parties -- bipartisan,” Bennett said. “If there are disputes, we will manage them with fundamental trust and mutual respect.”
While Bennett’s speech was conciliatory, Netanyahu’s was confrontational. He began by boasting of his achievements, including diplomatic treaties with four Arab states and a successful coronavirus vaccination drive, before belittling the man who is replacing him.
He accused Bennett of abandoning Israel’s right-wing electorate and joining weak “leftists” to become prime minister. He said Bennett did not have the backbone to stand up to Iran or pressure from the U.S. to make concessions to the Palestinians.
“I will lead you in the daily struggle against this evil and dangerous leftist government in order to topple it,” he said. “God willing, it will happen a lot faster than what you think.”
In the opposition, Netanyahu remains head of the largest party in parliament. The new coalition is a patchwork of small and midsize parties that could collapse if any of its members decide to bolt. Bennett’s party, for instance, holds just six seats in the 120-seat parliament.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the new government will likely be more stable than it appears.
Each party in the coalition will want to prove that it can deliver. For that, they need “time and achievements,” he said. Still, Netanyahu “will continue to cast a shadow,” Plesner said.
The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years in a rotation agreement with Bennett, if the government lasts that long.
Lapid called off a planned speech, saying he was ashamed that his 86-year-old mother had to witness the raucous behavior of his opponents.
“I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it’s time to replace you,” he said.
Netanyahu’s place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years — more than any other, including the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion.
But his reputation as a political magician has faded -- particularly since he was indicted in 2019 for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup. Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.
Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party. A less polarizing Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling the right-wing coalition that Netanyahu had hoped to form.