Daily Israel Report

Bennett Vindicated as Coalition Crafting Enters Overtime

Analysis: Likud's behavior shows the reasoning behind Naftali Bennett's decision to enter into a pact with Yesh Atid was sound.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 3/1/2013, 12:19 PM

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet President Shimon Peres Saturday evening and ask him for a two-week extension in which to put together a coalition of parties and form a new government.

Peres will grant Netanyahu the two-week extension.

If Netanyahu fails to cobble together a coalition within a fortnight, however, he will be in serious trouble. Peres could decide to task someone else with creating a coalition, or new elections could be called.

We are, therefore, entering the "money time" of coalition crafting.

The reports in two major news sources Friday that Netanyahu's representatives offered Yesh Atid a policy of destroying Jewish communities in return for their entry into the coalition without Bayit Yehudi, vindicate Bayit Yehudi's decision to enter into a tactical alliance with Yesh Atid. Together with reports that Likud made contradictory overtures to Bayit Yehudi, they portray Netanyahu in an unflattering light and are no cause for pride, for supporters of Likud / Yisrael Beytenu.

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett wrote on his Facebook page Friday: "While the Likud was explaining to us how important it is to abandon the connection with Lapid in order to strengthen the settlement enterprise, it was explaining to Lapid how important it is to abandon Bayit Yehudi in order to tear down the settlement enterprise."

If readers sense some bitterness and disappointment between the lines, their senses are probably not misleading them.

Likud's offers to Yesh Atid, if they indeed were made, vindicate Bennett's tactical move, to enter into a gentlemen's agreement with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. The two promised each other not to enter the coalition without each other.

Yesh Atid is a center-left, largely secularist party, which placed the matter of hareidi men's enlistment to the military as a central plank in its agenda. The party contains a strong ultra-leftist contingent, but its leader, Lapid, is less of an ideologue and more mainstream than his more radical MKs.

The hareidi enlistment issue is a favorite wedge issue of the Israeli left wing, because it splits the nationalist camp between hareidim and non-hareidim. The issue has, for decades, been seen as largely unsolvable, and governments have preferred to manage it rather than confront it head-on.

What Naftali Bennett did was to make Lapid an offer he couldn't refuse. He would enable him to square the circle and force a true change as regards hareidi enlistment. For this, Bennett would be willing to weather the storm of accusations that he was "selling out" his hareidi brethren and joining a secularist to do so.

In return, what Bennett has apparently received is a guarantee that the next coalition will not only include Bayit Yehudi but will also have to respect Bayit Yehudi's core principles, especially regarding the political and strategic issues that surround the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria.

Bennett has been warning for months that Netanyahu is planning a leftist, defeatist government, based upon a coalition with hareidim and leftist parties, including Yesh Atid. Likud's reported overtures to Yesh Atid, if true, confirm that he was right. What Bennett appears to have achieved through his pact with Lapid is a realignment of Israeli politics: essentially, the center will stop leaning to the left on Judea and Samaria, while the religious Zionists side with the secular Zionists on key issues regarding the power and privileges of the non-Zionist hareidi stream.

If the Bennett-Lapid pact holds up, this revolution will come close to turning into reality in a fortnight's time.

There is much gnashing of teeth on both sides of the political spectrum, meanwhile. Many in hareidi circles are understandably aghast at the developments. Some nationalists see Lapid as a sell-out just by virtue of the fact that he is letting Yesh Atid into the coalition. They do not trust Lapid and think he will bolt the coalition at the first opportunity, leaving the nationalist bloc splintered, perhaps permanently.

On the left wing, too, there is much apprehension. Channel 2's Rina Matzliach, whose leftist views are no secret, has incongruously become a great fan of the hareidi-Zionist Tekuma stream within Bayit Yehudi in the last week. She apparently hopes that MK Uri Ariel and other Tekuma MKs will split off from Bennett and prevent the Yesh Atid – Bayit Yehudi plan from being implemented. At this point, however, the pact between Bennett and Lapid appears strong.