Monday, November 19, 2018

How Netanyahu Dwarfed His Political Rivals Within - Bennett Drops Ultimatum Keeping Coalition Afloat

Let me get on with my job: How Netanyahu dwarfed his political rivals within

It was over for Benjamin Netanyahu.
He’d agreed on an informal truce with Hamas after 500 rockets had been fired at Israel, and his defense minister, the volatile Avigdor Liberman, had resigned in a seething firestorm of anger and recrimination. Two of his more quiescent coalition partners, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Aryeh Deri’s Shas, had concluded that the coalition, now reduced to 61 of the 120 Knesset seats, could no longer function effectively and were calling for elections. And his most irritating rival, the Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, was threatening to pull his eight-member party out of the government unless he was appointed defense minister, making elections in the spring — some six months ahead of schedule — unavoidable.
Many politicians might have caved to the seemingly inevitable. Netanyahu did not.

First, he moved to reframe the public debate.
Liberman was looking to resurrect his political fortunes by running in elections this spring as the one political leader with the guts to give up his prominent ministerial position for the cause of battering Hamas, and to portray himself as the lawmaker who had put an end to Netanyahu’s ostensible hesitancy and abandonment of the rocket-battered residents of Israel’s South.
Bennett thought he was onto a win-win. Either he elevated himself to the front rank of politicians by finally compelling Netanyahu to give him the Defense Ministry post, or he ran against Netanyahu in the elections he’d be triggering as the true champion of the hardline right.
Netanyahu had other ideas. Dismissing Liberman as an irresponsible manipulator who had deserted the nation’s key security post, and Bennett as a self-interested lightweight blinded to Israel’s core interests by his personal ambition, the prime minister asserted that his coalition could survive the loss of Liberman and insisted it would not capitulate to the ultimatum of Bennett.
Israel’s national security was at stake, Netanyahu declared in a fierce nine-minute address to the nation on Sunday night, and he, for one, was not going to abandon the ship of state in the midst of what he called a complex, ongoing military operation against Israel’s enemies.

In contrast to his piffling ministerial detractors, he told Israelis, he was not engaged in “sloganeering.” He was working to ensure Israel’s long-term security. Just as he had risked his life in battle as an officer in Israel’s most elite special forces unit, just as he had faced down even the previous president of the United States in his fight against the “dreadful” Iran nuclear deal, so now he was focused solely on defeating Israel’s current enemies. However misguided last Tuesday’s decision to halt the fight against Hamas may have looked, he indicated, Israelis were not yet seeing the full picture. But they could rely on him and on the security establishment, indeed they should and must rely on him and on the security establishment, to see the job through to its completion.

At the end of his statement — during which he had initially seemed full of pent-up anger, but gradually regained his customary assurance — he waved away reporters’ shouted attempts to ask him questions, and declared, mid-walk, “I am going to work.” As in, I’ve got a job to do. Let me get on with it.

Faced with a prime minister who had proved disinclined to blink, and had credibly reached out to reassure an uncertain public, the hapless Bennett’s win-win now became a lose-lose. If he stayed on as mere education minister, he’d appear weak and out-maneuvered. And if he quit, he risked being blamed, even by his own supporters, as the egotist who brought down Israel’s most right-wing government before its time. But, oy, what to do? He’d grandiosely announced a press conference for 10:30 on Monday morning.

In the event, Bennett uncomfortably read out what had patently been written as his resignation speech, but with a hastily redrafted final section, in which he said the Jewish Home was now “withdrawing all of our political demands” and would stand with the prime minister. He acknowledged that he was likely to pay a political price for the volte face, but said he had concluded that it was correct to continue to stand with Netanyahu in the hope that the prime minister would now correct the hesitant drift of the ship of state.
And thus — at least as of this writing — Netanyahu has for the umpteenth time given his would-be successors a political leadership masterclass, and apparently given his fractious, depleted coalition a little more breathing space.
Time will tell. The voting public will be watching closely. And as Netanyahu knows particularly well after the events of the past week, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman, dwarfed and outflanked for now, will be poised to exploit any new perceived failure or weakness.

In a dramatic announcement Monday morning, Education Minister Naftali Bennett reneged on a promise to pull his Jewish Home party out of the government and force new elections if he is not made defense minister, keeping the coalition alive with a razor-thin majority.
Despite heaping withering criticism on the government’s defense policies, Bennett said he will back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the position of defense minister in an effort to improve Israel’s “deep security crisis.”
Speaking at a press conference at the Knesset, Bennett said he had decided to “stand by the prime minister’s side,” and not act on his ultimatum to leave the government.

Yet, despite the criticism, the Jewish Home leader said he believed that Netanyahu would be able to “change direction” with him by his side.
“We think that there is no answer to terror, to rockets and mortars, but there is an answer — we can get back to winning,” he said.
The announcement came after Netanyahu urged his partners on Sunday night to stay the course in the current government because Israel is in “one of our most complex periods in terms of security.”
Touting his military experience in the Sayeret Matkal elite operations unit and his “years of having ordered many military operations” as prime minister, Netanyahu said that he “knows when to act and what to do” in moments of crisis.
Bennett said that “if the prime minister is true to his words, and I want to believe that he will be, then we will stand by his side.”
According to Bennett, the Jewish Home had succeeded in preventing a slew of “misguided security decisions” in the past, such as the release of further terrorists after more than 1,000 were freed as part of a 2011 deal to secure the release of Israeli solider Gilad Shalit.
“We have proved ourselves through actions. We can change the direction,” he said.
Immediately before Bennett’s announcement, Netanyahu addressed the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, saying that Israel was “ready for all security challenges.”

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