Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s possible plea bargain is a matter of concern in Israeli political circles, as it could reshape the current political landscape. If Netanyahu accepts a plea bargain to avoid corruption charges, he will be banned from all public office for seven years, and the Likud party will have to choose a new leader. If this were to happen, it would open up the possibility of the parties – that were only „forced” into the ideologically distant alliance by their dislike of Netanyahu – leaving the current governing coalition.
The reshuffle is also reportedly being watched by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Yamina party, who is seeking the favor of parties that are not yet in his government and could be used to fill the seats needed by the parties leaving.
There are not many such parties. The Haredi parties, Likud and, for that matter, Netanyahu’s allies, have been quick to declare that there is no scenario in which they would join the alliance announced by Bennett and the center-left Yesh Atid party leader, Yair Lapid, a perfectly understandable reaction after the current government has embarked on a major reshuffle on issues of serious concern to the Haredi world.
The abolition of the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut and the extension of conversion to Judaism by Reform communities are issues that represent a red line for Haredi party voters. The abandonment of the status quo of the Western Wall, the plan to create a co-educational place of worship, and a change in the status of compulsory conscription aren’t exactly earning their sympathy, either.
Those who are not with us are against us
Bennett knows that if Netanyahu is forced out of politics, there are parties that could find an old-new alliance with a Likud under new leadership, such as the Blue and White Party led by Benny Gantz or Israel Our Home (Yisrael Beiteinu) led by Avigdor Lieberman, representing mainly Russian voters.
These are essentially right-wing parties that have been in coalition governments with Likud before, but they have always underestimated Netanyahu’s cunning and gotten burned by arguably the most ardent player in Israeli politics.
Bennett’s Yamina party is not safe either. If one or other of his own party’s MKs decides to leave the ideologically alien current government and continue his or her activities in the Knesset under the colors of another party, the shaky Bennett-Lapid coalition, currently secure with a one-seat majority and the Arab Ra’am party, will already be in tatters.
It is the presence of this party that is the most dangerous pill for the basically right-wing, religious and Zionist Yamina party, in addition to the fact that the party’s second in command, Ayelet Shaked, could be a time bomb in the Bennett government.
Shaked has repeatedly made statements indicating that she would move away from the Bennett line, and her presence in the coalition was questionable even before the government was formed.
The great Bennett plan
So Bennett doesn’t just sit back and wait, he tries to outsmart Netanyahu by planning a counter-attack:
to try to redefine the threshold for getting into parliament. If the bill is passed, it would allow small groups of four MKs to form a parliamentary group (currently a minimum of five MKs is required for a parliamentary group), which the current legislation has prevented, as breakaway party „defectors” who are not great enough in number cannot leave their party and form their own bloc.
Bennett’s plan would, at least according to rumors, allow Likud MKs to leave their party and join the government, thus ending the “scale-tipping” status of the Arab Ra’am party, despite the various gestures by the political organization led by Mansour Abbas to prove its loyalty to the Jewish state, and luring Likud members who have little sympathy for them.
The next big move in Israel’s political chess game is once again in the hands of Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister. He knows this well, which is why he has instructed his lawyers to continue plea bargaining with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, despite reports that his wife, Sarah Netanyahu, who has been skillfully guiding the prime minister from behind the scenes, is reportedly not in favor of a plea bargain.
If an agreement is reached and it does indeed cost Netanyahu seven years in the shadows – Mandelblit seems adamant on this point – then Likud, now with a new leader, could quickly reach an agreement with the right-wing parties in the current government and form a new government in Israel without elections.
There is, of course, another possibility in the case Bennett’s plan fails and Netanyahu leaves, and that is a split in the Likud party if it can’t find a leader who suits everyone’s peculiar tastes.