If it were anyone else but Benjamin Netanyahu it would be 100% clear his Prime Ministership is over and a new government will be sworn in later this week. That still seems highly likely. But since it is Benjamin Netanyahu, who has 900 political lives and has managed to remain Prime Minister after multiple losses and stalemate elections, no one can be sure.
Even with all this it is remarkable to watch the wild and desperate moves from Netanyahu and his supporters to upend what seems increasingly close to inevitable. They have unleashed a fusillade of attacks and incitement against Naftali Bennett and his political ally Ayelet Shaked, both members of the religious zionist Yamina party. Not a few have compared the current climate of incitement against these two and Yair Lapid, the architect of the new government, to that in weeks preceding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, has ordered increased security for Bennett and Shaked. Lapid already has a security detail as head of the opposition.
It is important to remember that to the extent ideology still matters in Israeli politics – which isn’t much – Bennett and Shaked are actually to Netanyahu’s right. They are the furthest things from peaceniks or anything like the center. They’re of the right. But they’re being denounced as traitors to Israel and Zionism because they are about to join – and in Bennett’s case lead – what will essentially be a national unity government.
Lapid has a mandate to form a new government which expires Wednesday. The parties are in final negotiations over who gets which ministry. There are bumps in the road. But these sorts of arguments are standard when a government is being formed. Now the Speaker of the Knesset, a Netanyahu ally named Yariv Levin, has announced that even if a new government is formed he will use his legal authority to delay a Knesset vote confirming the government as long as possible. Sources close to Levin tell The Jerusalem Post he can delay the vote as long as a week.
To be clear, a Knesset vote confirming a coalition agreement which has been brought to the country’s President is a formality – a critical formality, but a formality. What is the point of delaying it? Netanyahu and Levin believe – rightly – that the new anti-Netanyahu coalition is incredibly brittle. That is the case especially before it is ratified. Every day of delay is another day when new pressures can be brought to bear, when new events might break the agreements or change the situation that has made them possible. “Levin has the legal right to delay it by a week,” one of Levin’s allies told the paper. “It’s not playing a game with the law. It is understandable that we want to torpedo the formation of the government.”
I don’t know enough about Knesset procedure to know how much this breaks ‘norms’ or how irregular it is. But that’s kind of beside the point. The pressure is being brought to the boiling point and everything short of violence – so far – is being brought to bear to stop what is in fact a simple change of government. In Israel one might imagine something extraordinary if it was a new government of the left embarking on some major territorial compromise. In fact it will have another right wing Prime Minister heading up a government that is roughly equal parts right, center and left. (Even that probably overstates how ‘left’ this government would be.)
The existential threshold is Benjamin Netanyahu no longer being Prime Minister. Nothing more, nothing less.