Really, only two choices exist that make sense

Only two choices exist that make sense from the 4th round of Israeli elections, but that doesn't mean we will see one of them occur. Op-ed.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer ,

Netanyahu and Lapid at Cabinet Meeting 2014
Netanyahu and Lapid at Cabinet Meeting 2014
Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90

Given the allocation of Knesset seats, there easily are 65 seats for a right-wing political, moderately conservative social, and religiously respectful government.

It actually is pretty good that such choices exist. Israel has come quite a way since its left-wing Labor governments included outright Stalinists who comprised a bona fide Jewish party, Mapam, that once won as many 19 Knesset seats. It took Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan catastrophically conducting the Yom Kippur War, Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz conducting the 2006 Second Lebanon War even more incompetently, Yitzhak Rabin bribing Alex Goldfarb (with a Mitsubishi and a driver) and Gonen Segev of Raful Eitan’s right-wing Tzomet party into supporting Oslo II, and finally Ehud Barak unilaterally ceding South Lebanon and Ariel Sharon doing the same with Gush Katif. And everyone experienced the results in horrible ways none will ever forget.

A quarter century of such “leadership” from the Left erased any imagined good feelings still reposing from the halcyon days of the Lavon Affair, government forcibly converting color TVs to black and white, and other such inspired Labor socialist initiatives. Intifadas arose from Oslo II, although rocks and bombs may not have been directed at Goldfarb’s Mitsubishi. Minister Segev ended up moving on to make bigger contributions to Israeli society, eventually getting convicted on charges of forgery, credit card fraud, and attempting to smuggle drugs. In 2019 he was convicted on spying for Iran and was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Not clear what car he was chauffeured in on the way to the hoosegow. Only the most hardened and foolish of Israeli leftists still can vote for a Labor Party or Meretz. Thus the 65 seats now at hand for a solid, stable right-wing government.

It should be simple, but it is not. People like Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar do not — and realistically cannot — trust Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's promises to them. My mother of blessed memory taught me when I was an eight-year-old boy in third grade at Brooklyn’s Yeshiva Rambam that I should always be honest because “your actions create a record, and your record will follow you wherever you go.” People who are honest for several decades gain a reputation that they can be trusted. People who deceive too often wake up one day to find that lots of people do not want to play with them any more. In politics, that can trump the good of the country.

It is what it is.

So we look at what should be a really nifty situation and instead struggle to figure a way out of the morass. Bennett doesn’t trust Bibi. Sa’ar doesn’t trust him. Avigdor Liberman doesn’t trust him. Yair Lapid doesn’t trust him. Too many people who worked closely with Bibi don’t trust him on a personal level - but most admit his incomparable accomplishments for Israel and many are afraid that with the Iran Deal in Biden's hands and Gaza and Hezbollah warlike stirrings, added to internal unrest in the Arab sector, he is indispensable.

Who knows what is in his mind? That is the problem. When even Avigdor Liberman can’t believe that someone can be that two-timing a finagler, well — that’s a thing.

So it is a mess. And yet, remote though they seem, there are two elegant solutions.

First, beyond those two, a word about the most easy solution of all — which is the worst. It is what the Talmud calls “the short road that is long.” That road to No Man’s Land is one that coalesces 59 seats including Bennett’s Yamina and then relies on Mansour Abbas of Ra’am for passive support outside the government. There is something indescribably repulsive in having a Jewish government in Israel that relies for its existence on an Arab Party that is loosely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The notion, with 65 seats in tow for a stable religious right-wing government, that a deal needs to be made with a guy who exists ultimately to destroy Israel and can take it all down any day he likes is rather insane. All it takes is for Israel to respond with force to the recent spate of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, or to crack down on anti-Jewish Arab rioters at the Damscus Gate in the Old City, and Abbas can take down the government. This is insane — although, in fairness to Abbas, he seems presently the only guy in the Knesset besides the janitor who has not yet forced Israel into at least one of the rounds of new elections.

So, now that we all have debated it and thought it through, we increasingly recognize that he is no option, not inside and not outside. Thank you, Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir for stating the obvious. (And what does it say about Israeli politics that Itamar Ben-Gvir has been one of the the most mature children in the sand box the past few weeks? And that all the media and even right wing and religious MKs have been villifyiing Smotrich for this stand?)

Here are the only two elegant options, remote though they be, that seem to make any sense:

1. Bibi buys off two characters in Sa’ar’s New Hope Party or maybe even from Benny Gantz’s Blue and White . He gives them a Mitsubishi or even a choice of cars from Kelly’s Blue Book and Edmond’s. He lets them pick the colors and the accessories. They each get a chauffeur and ministry they can be proud of, plus a guaranteed lifetime pension boost by virtue of having been ministers. He can’t give Elkin another Ministry of Silly Walks or yet another convoluted quiltwork ministry like Minister of Education for Grades 3, 5, and 8 plus Minister of Coffee and Minister of Shesh-Besh. The thing is that no one in Sa’ar’s party is made of the stuff that Raful Eitan unearthed when he put Goldfarb and Segev into the Knesset, so it is harder to find two jumpers.

2. That leaves the other option. It is elegant and has a real Occam’s Razor aspect — the simplest, most obvious solution. Either Bennett or Sa’ar — if need be, they flip a coin — becomes Prime Minister for one year. Netanyahu stays with Sarah in the Prime Minister’s residence on Balfour Street, and a second residence — which had been prepared for Benny Gantz — goes to Bennett or Sa’ar. Netanyahu gets designated as Deputy Prime Minister through the first year. If he gets convicted over the next twelve months, he is out of rotation and the Likud picks someone else like Nir Barkat for the remaining three years. If he gets acquitted, then Bibi gets to be Prime Minster for the last three years. Sa’ar thus keeps his promise in the first year not to serve under Netanyahu, and thereafter he can serve because he can say that he never would serve under Netanyahu as long as Bibi had the indictment hanging, but now that he is exonerated, Sa’ar can serve under him.

2A. Bennett was an excellent Defense Minister, and he also would make an excellent Foreign Minister. It is not clear what ministry Sa’ar would be excellent at heading, although he was a very good Education Minister. Ayelet Shaked would make a good foreign minister or justice minister. Netanyahu would want to keep the justice ministry close, though, for someone like Amir Ohana who was a bulldog acolyte in that role. The Finance Ministry would fit Nir Barkat or Yisrael Katz, each of whom is loyal to Netanyahu, but also vying to replace him as Likud head when he steps down. Miri Regev is always fun to have around for something, doesn’t matter what. Betzalel Smotrich was excellent at Transportation, but he could be moved around. Wouldn’t it be nice to have him at Education (won't happen)? Shas and UTJ always land in the Interior, Religion, Housing, and ministries like those. No government will agree to have Ben-Gvir be a minister just yet, and that is OK. He can use the time to build a reputation and public image as a normal MK, which he has been doing so far. In time, others will get used to him and see him as normal enough.

2B. The key is that the Likud gets the last three years of the four-year deal. That somewhat resolves the quirk that a Bennett with seven seats out of 120 or a Sa’ar with six ends up as Prime Minister for a year. But that is why they get only the first year while Likud gets the rest. Really, there will not be much difference as to who is the Prime Minister from among them. If no one “annexed” the Jordan Valley or Area C in Judea and Samaria amid the Trump-Pompeo period, it will not happen the next four years anyway. Dealing with Hamas and Hezbollah will not differ much regardless of which of those three is at the top.

The problem comes down to ego. Bennett's, Sa'ar's and Liberman's as well as Netanyahu's. Bibi is now like Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken, amid an unbroken longest-ever streak. If he agrees to let someone else be Prime Minister for a year, the Twelve-Years-in-a-Row streak ends. He can keep adding to his Most-Years-Altogether record, but that ends the Dozen Years streak. So there is that.

It is amazing that these seem to be the calculations now in place — personal animosities, whether to rely on Arab Muslims associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, how a deal will affect Netanyahu’s place in the Guinness Book of Records, and which model of car is the most enticing with which to buy off a politician and make him a cabinet minister. But they all seem preferable to fifth elections which everyone in the country knows will net the same results.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer is adjunct professor of law at two prominent Southern California law schools, Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, congregational rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served for most of the past decade on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings have appeared in The Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, and Israel National News. Other writings are collected at www.rabbidov.com .



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