Netanyahu Is Sabotaging Unity Government Talks. His Scorched-earth Tactics May Backfire

The preparations for a third election, aka the “coalition negotiations,” are continuing apace. This week, a senior Likud figure who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a friend of his, a central figure in the Israeli left. Tell me, the Likudnik said, how are you going to run in the next election? What will the format be this time? Is there any chance that Kahol Lavan, Meretz and Labor will run together? Or maybe that just the first two will?

What the left-winger replied is of no importance; he had no intelligent responses. What was interesting was the reason for the call in the first place. In light of the close ties between the caller and the outgoing prime minister, the conclusion to be drawn is that the Balfour Street residence and the Likud party are dusting off contingency plans for another election. The option of additional mergers between the two blocs of parties, a scenario that came to partial fruition in September, could surface again, this time more potently.

It’s too soon to consider the various scenarios. In a normal state of affairs, Likud would have long since swallowed up Hayamin Hehadash, the National Union and Habayit Hayehudi – as well as Yisrael Beiteinu, for that matter – to create the Republican Party of Israel. On the other side of the divide, there is no future for Labor and Meretz, two exhausted brands that barely survived the previous grinding campaigns. Their time has passed. Their place is in Kahol Lavan. Together, they constitute the Democratic Party that needs to be established here. Each of the small planets in the two camps has a place under a big sun, according to their relative size.

The feeling that the dark clouds of a third election are gathering before our eyes looms even larger when we examine Netanyahu’s behavior this week. If his aim was to forge a unity government, he would not have sicced his gofer from the Justice Ministry on the state prosecution; remained silent for hours before dissociating himself laconically from the idiotic rant of conspiracy theorist Mordechai Kedar (who claimed at a demonstration of Bibi’s supporters that it was not Yigal Amir who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995); or termed the investigation of his aides in the case of the harassment of state’s witness Shlomo Filber a “terrorist attack on democracy.” Rather, the premier would have expressed some sort of reservations about the gutter language his son Yair used when describing police investigators (“Gestapo,” “Stasi”) and Gideon Sa’ar (“rapist”), and would even perhaps have sent him to anger-management therapy and to a course in good manners.

To weaken Kahol Lavan’s entrenchment in its two basic conditions for a unity government – Benny Gantz coming first in any rotation, and Netanyahu separating from the right-wing bloc – the prime minister should have done the opposite: demonstrate statesmanship and moderation, calming things down in the judicial system, and at least pretending that his two consecutive failures – the political one after the April election and the electoral one in September – had taught him a little humility.

He should have killed them softly, set a honey trap. He has plenty of shticks up his sleeve. For example, arranging a dinner for the two couples: Revital and Benny, Sara and himself. Or, with Gantz’s okay, holding a conversation with Gabi Ashkenazi, the person in the Kahol Lavan “cockpit” who’s most opposed to any compromise on the order of the rotation.

But when Netanyahu continues to fulminate and inflame passions, personally or through envoys, when he chooses to target Yair Lapid, accusing him of being the principal obstacle to unity and of leading Gantz by the nose – he is deliberately and consciously torpedoing the coalition talks and hastening the coming of an election in 2020.