ANALYSIS: This could be Bibi’s end, but none want to say for sure
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ANALYSIS: This could be Bibi’s end, but none want to say for sure

Naftali Bennett’s public divorce from his former boss is a major blow, but any new unity coalition will be very shaky

Michael Daventry

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. April 7, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi-JINIPIX
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister for the moment, pictured in April 2021 (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi-JINIPIX)

Getting rid of Benjamin Netanyahu is pretty much the only thing that the kaleidoscope of parties in this potential unity government agree upon.

After well over a decade at the top, Israel’s prime minister generates such strong feelings that he can inspire right-wing Jewish nationalists and left-wing Arabs to seek common ground against him.

That’s why as many as nine of the Knesset’s 13 political parties could be involved in the new unity government, if it emerges this week, yet there are real questions about what it can do in power.

Make no mistake: Sunday night was a deeply significant moment.

The televised speech by Naftali Bennett, who now leads the right-wing Yamina party, was an explicit declaration by a one-time Netanyahu ally that the prime minister needed to go.

With a Wednesday deadline looming, there’s plenty of hard negotiating still to do.

We know that Bennett is set to become prime minister – the first ever in Israel to wear a kippah – as part of a rotation arrangement with Yair Lapid, even though the latter leads a much larger party in the Knesset.

We know also that Israel’s main Arab parties are likely to be involved, possibly with ministerial responsibilities, but more likely by providing the votes to prevent the government from being toppled.

In exchange, Haaretz says, Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List wants more funds for education and to fight organised crime in Arab areas, as well as more police stations. Measures to repeal the deeply divisive Nation State law, which Israeli Arabs say relegated them to second-class citizens, are not among their demands.

And that’s significant because other parts of this kaleidoscope coalition would never accept it, not least Bennett himself.

The numbers illustrate how extraordinarily fragile this unity government would be. Israeli governments need 61 seats for a Knesset majority and the seven parties in the likely coalition have 58 seats between them. The Arab parties have another ten, but not at all will support a Bennett-Lapid deal.

It would take one party or a handful of MKs to switch to the other side to end everything.

And remember that other side is still led by Netanyahu, that magician of Israeli politics. He has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to coax away members of Yamina and New Hope, the other right-wing party set to join the new deal.

That could change between now and Shabbat; after all, this prime minister has pulled off unlikely feats before.

And even if the new government is formed, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu will still be around the place, waiting to exploit any missteps, projecting himself as a beacon of stability and self-assuredness.

Yet two flies could spoil this potential “Bibi ointment”. The first is the mutterings of dissent in his Likud party, which might spell trouble. The second is more serious: Netanyahu’s trial for corruption, which plods along relentlessly, will now feature a defendant who no longer enjoys the trappings of the office of prime minster.

That’s why so many are saying the era of Bibi might be over, but none can ever be sure.

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