In fantasy literature, Dr. Frankenstein created a living creature by passing electric current through a collection of dead body parts.
In real life, nobody has matched that feat, but in today’s Israel, Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar and Yair Lapid want to create a living, breathing government from a collection of dead or dying political careers and parties.
It may not be a monster, but it could be hard to watch, and by any estimation, it will be a kind of miracle.
Yes, Israel is the land of miracles, and that’s good, because it will take a miracle for Lapid, Sa’ar and Bennett to craft a working government from the conflicting ideologies that exist in their proposed “Change Coalition” or “National Unity Government.”
Bennett began the last Israeli election campaign with 20 seats in the opinion polls. In the last election, Bennett landed only seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset. And it went downhill from there. One member of his party list defected, leaving him only six seats under his control. Think of it: six whole seats for the man who will be prime minister.
If elections were held tomorrow, Bennett might not even get elected to the Knesset. That is roughly the same diagnosis for Gideon Sa’ar, the other right- of-center partner in the proposed new government. Sa’ar, once cabinet secretary and minister of interior under Benjamin Netanyahu, broke from the Likud and had more than 24 seats in public opinion polls. In the elections, he actually got six seats.
The 12 seats of the Right-Center Parties will be wielding an inordinate influence: Bennett will be the first rotation prime minister for two years, and the inner cabinet will have a slightly Right-ward cast.
Why would Lapid – whose party has more votes than Bennett and Sa’ar combined – agree to such a deal? Why would Lapid agree to be the second in the prime ministerial rotation? And why would the Hard Left – Labor and Meretz – agree to allowing the Right to have such a say?
The main reason is that this may be Left’s last and only shot.
The two Left-wing parties in the proposed coalition – Meretz and Labor – are likely to flounder and even to fail to get re-elected if there is another round of elections because, while there is a general fatigue from Netanyahu, the clearly Left-leaning parties are clearly losing their attractiveness in the eyes of most Israelis.
As for the Center-Left (Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party) and the various Right-Center parties (Bennett, Sa’ar and the maverick Avigdor Lieberman), they have come to regard Benjamin Netanyahu as a corrupt influence on the Israeli body politic.
For two years and four rounds of inconclusive elections, Israel’s political system has not really functioned: the government didn’t bother to pass a budget, and no government programs and appointments were updated.
Privately, a rising number inside the Likud Party of Netanyahu himself believe that Netanyahu – who has served more than 15 years as prime minister – is also suffocating the Israeli Right, preventing the emergence of two entire generations of young leaders.
People like Gilead Arden (the current ambassador to the U.S. and ex-Minister of Internal Security), Nir Barkat (popular former mayor of Jerusalem) and hugely successful Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz have all been pushed away from real power by Netanyahu – some to the sidelines, some entirely out of the game.
They are not alone.
Sa’ar and Bennett were once close colleagues of Netanyahu. So was Avigdor Lieberman, the man who was once Netanyahu’s right-hand man. So was Ayelet Shaked – the intelligent former Minister of Justice who is probably the most popular woman in Israeli politics. None of them trusts Netanyahu. Each feels Netanyahu has repeatedly stabbed them in the back.
Netanyahu tried to get each of them to make a rotation deal with him and not with Lapid.
“The real question Netanyahu has to ask himself is why he could offer the prime minister’s office to them and they refused to take it; that they refused to take any check he wrote,” observed Amnon Abramovitz, the political commentator for Channel Two Television.
In other words, the distrust and antagonism to Netanyahu – as a person and as a leader – is the glue that holds together the coalition of Lapid-Bennett-Sa’ar-Lieberman-Michaeli-Horowitz.
In addition, the “Unity” or “Change” government will need the tacit support of one or more Arab parties in the Knesset. Will this kind of tacit Arab support continue if there is another crisis with Gaza or Lebanon?
This coalition realizes that it will have to exhibit tremendous self-restraint. With Left and Right joined at the hip there will be no grand annexation projects for Bennett and Sa’ar; no great Gay rights initiatives and feminist agendas by activists Nitzan Horowitz and Meirav Michaeli.
Self-restraint is not usually regarded as a common character trait among Israelis, but what’s one more miracle in a land of so many miracles?
Michael Widlanski is a journalist based in Jerusalem.