JERUSALEM – Some nations lose a prince (Great Britain), and some search for a prince (Jordan).
Only in Israel do we search for a would-be king, a kingmaker, and a quasi-queen as well as two court jesters.
It is likely the court jesters decide how Israel handles the job search that will determine whether Israel goes to a fifth set of elections before the summer.
Israel has a court jester in Mansour Abbas, a very serious man with a wonderful sense of humor who has seized the very serious job of getting Israel’s Jewish politicians to take the nation’s Arabs more seriously.
Instead of endless pledges of support for the PLO, like almost all previous Israeli Arab politicians, Abbas has been acting like an alderman from Chicago or a Boston city councilor, asking “What’s in it for my people?”
With much wit and sass, Abbas has shown a touch of class, demanding money for Arab social services and better police protection while not singing the Palestinian national anthem and not declaring that he hates Zionism.
Abbas commands the four parliamentary seats of Ra’am (United Arab List), which are critically important to Israel’s would-be “king,” Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who has a solid bloc of 52 seats. Even if Netanyahu gets the support of the rightist Yemina party of Naftali Bennett (the kingmaker), he still needs Court Jester Abbas to support him, or at least to abstain.
Even if Abbas succeeds in his jest, another jester, Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party, says he would never accept support from Abbas or any non-Zionist Arab party.
Bennett has often been mistreated and insulted by Netanyahu, and has many reasons to distrust him. He could go instead with the anti-Netanyahu opposition that has offered to make him king, not kingmaker: a two-year rotation as prime minister of a left-center-right coalition.
This left-center-right coalition would need the tacit support of Abbas’ United Arab List. It would be a shaky coalition, prone to collapse under stress from Lebanon or Gaza.
Netanyahu has been prime minister for 13 consecutive years, far longer than any other leader in Israel’s history. It is a direct contradiction of his agenda when he entered Israeli politics and announced that he wanted Israel to be governed more like the United States.
Meanwhile, with the passage of time Netanyahu – the son of a history professor – has forgotten or ignored his history, as well as Lord Acton’s dictum: “Power corrupts.”
Those who knew him (like this author) when he returned from America in the 1980s know that Netanyahu is a highly intelligent and talented man who, over the years, has been at least somewhat corrupted by being in power longer than any president in U.S. history, including Franklin Roosevelt.
Frankly, “Bibi” has picked up some of the trappings of a king. His family members often behave worse than the British Royal Family on their worst day. His wife Sara, a trained psychologist, is infamous for shouting and berating the serving staff at the prime minister’s residence. She is the quasi-queen, and some would call her “the crazy queen.”
Mrs. Netanyahu has earned a reputation for thrusting herself into the public eye more than any previous prime minister’s spouse, sitting with the Israeli delegation at the United Nations and accompanying her husband at the heart of ceremonies from Mount Herzl to the White House.
Israel’s royal couple has grown accustomed to being showered with gifts, and that is why Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu have both faced several legal charges on this matter. Of all the cases still facing Prime Minister Netanyahu, the one involving personal gifts – Case 1000 – is clearly the most factually and legally consequential. (The other two cases – 2000 and 4000 – are weak and have already produced several judicial rebukes.)
There is no denying that Netanyahu’s “queen” actually asked friends to deliver her items ranging from jewelry to cases of pink champagne, and that “King” Netanyahu also asked for items, including choice Cuban cigars. Bible readers may detect a slight resemblance to the story of King Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel.
“Bibi” backers are correct to say some other Israeli prime ministers – and their wives – were worse. But that was then. Meanwhile, Netanyahu could have helped himself with a mid-course correction, but he has waved that off.
Instead, Netanyahu’s eldest son, Yair, frequented strip joints and became a notoriously nasty tweeter. His father has not restrained his conduct nor offered serious apologies. This style would be mere gossip material if not for the fact that it has also clearly colored the way Netanyahu carries out his job.
That is why “Rak-lo-Bibi” – “Anyone but Bibi” – is a strong sentiment, not just a movement.
It energizes everyone opposed to Netanyahu. For over a year, it has fueled mass demonstrations around the country. It has been fed by his apparent inability to treat colleagues with decency.
Four or five entire political parties comprised of three generations of rightist cabinet ministers, cabinet secretaries, directors-general, staff directors, and office managers have left Netanyahu’s service because they felt like nasal tissue discarded with disdain: Moshe Ya’alon, Tzvi Hauser, Yoaz Hendel, Avigdor Lieberman, Ayalet Shaked, Naftali Bennett.
None is a leftist. On some issues, many are to the right of Netanyahu. All are at least willing to consider an anti-Bibi coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and even the Labor Party – if the coalition is not too far to the left. Furthermore, they would be willing to make a coalition with Likud if Likud were led by someone other than Netanyahu.
So, Israel is faced with a litany of internal paradoxes:
A national leader who helped defeat the coronavirus has never seemed more personally compelling while at the same time incredibly off-putting.
Politically, the right is ascendant but seems unable to get its act together and to swallow its pride and accept even tacit support from an Arab political party.
Demographically and electorally, the country has certainly moved to the right on war-peace issues and even on the economy. That is why very few Israeli parties call themselves “left.”
So, the question is not moving left or right, but moving forward or moving on.
Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of “Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat.” He also advised Israeli negotiation teams at the Madrid and Washington talks in 1991-92.