Will The Bennett-Lapid Prime Minister Rotation Happen?
August 1, 2021 at 3:30 am, No commentsWhen the Knesset was about to vote on the Likud’s bill calling for Israel to apply sovereignty to every Jewish community in Judea and Samaria on Wednesday, Yamina MK Yomtov Kalfon could not be found.
Kalfon, who made aliyah from France at age 18, is a strong proponent of keeping every inch of the Land of Israel. He wanted to vote in favor of the bill, or at least not vote against it.
So he hid in the men’s bathroom, in an effort to avoid the vote.
But Yamina faction chairman Nir Orbach and others succeeded in bringing Kalfon in for the vote on the bill, which the coalition defeated 64 to 50.
The coalition won every vote this week, except for the final readings of New Hope faction chairwoman Sharren Haskel’s cannabis decriminalization bill, which she raised knowing it would be defeated, in an effort to shame Likud supporters of the bill.
The fact that the coalition emerged relatively unscathed despite a 35-hour Likud filibuster was seen as a good omen for the staying power of the current government. So was the wide margin in defeating the annexation bill, which not only Kalfon but Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and other right-wingers voted against.
The most important vote for the coalition this week was on an amendment to Basic Law: The Government, which legislated the rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office. It set August 27, 2023, as the date when Bennett will be replaced by Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, whose term is set to end on November 11, 2025.
If the 2023 state budget does not pass or MKs rebel and vote to disperse the Knesset, the changeover can happen earlier. But in a display of trust, a clause that would make Lapid prime minister if Bennett tried to join a government led by another MK was removed.
Lapid also won’t come to power automatically if the two-year budget that will come to its first vote in the cabinet on Sunday does not pass into law by its November 4 deadline. Such a scenario was initially part of the coalition agreement, because former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used that loophole to initiate an election and prevent then-alternate prime minister Benny Gantz from taking power. That, too, was removed from the agreement, because of that rare commodity in Israeli politics known as trust.
So is Lapid, whose name means torch, right to put so much trust in Bennett to pass him the torch and enable him to become prime minister? There are plenty of reasons to suggest he could be making a mistake.
The following are several possibilities for the rotation that may or may not happen in 25 months.
Running with rotation
Let’s start with Lapid’s best-case scenario of the rotation taking place as planned. For this to happen, the most important factor is that Netanyahu will have to still remain the main alternative in the opposition.
He is the glue that built the most diverse government in Israel’s history, and he remains the glue keeping it together.
Bennett and Lapid meet every week to ensure they are fully coordinated, which never happened with Netanyahu and Gantz. A source close to Bennett said that whenever Ayelet Shaked or anyone else in his party wants to act independently, Bennett tells them – in English, of course: “A deal’s a deal.”
What could guarantee the rotation is successfully wooing four Likud rebels to defect and join the coalition. But this became harder this week, when a portfolio was given away to pacify renegade Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar.
Rotation ruined by retirement
The rotation is built on trust between Lapid and Bennett, not with Shaked, Kalfon or anyone else in Yamina. Shaked is set to become justice minister under Lapid for the second half of the term, but she and the rest of the Yamina MKs would prefer a right-wing prime minister when Bennett’s term ends.
What happens if Bennett decides after two years as prime minister to not take the Interior portfolio that the coalition agreement gives him and instead decides to go back to hi-tech, making millions and raising his kids?
All Shaked would need is to persuade two MKs from New Hope to follow her into a right-wing government with the Likud. New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar may have turned off Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Haskel by not completely supporting the controversial moves they made this week on COVID-19 and cannabis.
Shaked would redeem herself with the Right for her decision to enable the current government and could be rewarded with the premiership herself, perhaps in a rotation with Netanyahu, splitting the remaining two years of the current Knesset.
Bennett brings back Bibi
Despite all the trust between Bennett and Lapid, there is the quote attributed to US president Harry S. Truman: “You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”
Bennett has a dog in Ra’anana named Lychee. Shortly before his term is set to end, Bennett could decide to keep Lychee, split with Lapid and prevent the Yesh Atid leader from getting a crack at the premiership.
Again, two MKs in New Hope would be needed. So would an excuse to break the bond with Lapid other than the budget. That could be easy in such a diverse coalition, with no shortage of issues to argue about.
Ra’am (United Arab List), for instance, finds a new excuse to rebel every week. Haskel, whose cannabis bill was stopped by Mansour Abbas’s party, and plenty of other current coalition MKs are sick and tired of partnering with the party.
Gantz gets his government
The tragic figure of the current government is Gantz, who could have become prime minister on November 17 had Netanyahu honored their agreement. Likud MKs are trying to woo him back and offering him the premiership, with a coalition of the Likud, Religious Zionist Party, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Blue and White and Yamina renegade MK Amichai Chikli.
Likud leaders have cited Gantz’s decision to remain an MK when 20 ministers and deputy ministers have quit via the Norwegian Law as proof that he could break up the current coalition and head a rotation government with the Likud without initiating an election. A prime minister must be a member of Knesset.
But Gantz’s associates said the truth is actually the opposite. They said Netanyahu’s decision to violate his rotation agreement with Gantz traumatized the Blue and White leader, who no longer trusts even his political partners and feels the need to stay in the Knesset to monitor the situation.
They have ruled out the possibility of Gantz cooperating with Netanyahu again, but what would happen if someone else would lead Likud?
Likud leaps to new leader
There may have never been a greater gap between how Israeli politicians speak publicly and privately than current Likud MKs about Netanyahu. In public, they sing his praises, but in private, they say the time has come for him to go.
They did not take steps to oust Netanyahu before Bennett formed a government, in part because they thought it wouldn’t happen until it already did. But ahead of the rotation with Lapid, pressure will mount on Netanyahu to go.
A Likud primary could be held, and anything could happen. A new Likud leader, like Nir Barkat or Yuli Edelstein, who is not hated as much as Netanyahu by his former colleagues, could bring back New Hope and Yamina and form a stable, right-wing government.
The pace of Netanyahu’s criminal trial could also have an impact. But so far, it is moving extremely slowly.
The least likely scenario is that Israeli politicians prove Einstein’s theory of insanity yet again by doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again and expecting a different result.
It is much more likely that an upheaval would happen in the current Knesset without going back to the polls.
No current party wants elections, with the exception of the Religious Zionist Party, whose leaders believe they can double their support after Bennett betrayed the Right in the eyes of many of the prime minister’s voters. Likud MKs do not want elections, which would put their jobs in jeopardy, except for Netanyahu.
If a vote would be held to disperse the current Knesset and go to elections, don’t be surprised if more than one MK decides to avoid voting and try to hide.