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Analysis: Netanyahu is imprisoned in his own government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on March 12, 2018
Menahem KAHANA (AFP)
Netanyahu's coalition closed in on him from all corners, and the PM missed the chance to take early elections

If there is one conclusion that emerges from the end of this crisis, it is this: The ultra-Orthodox politicians are far less frightening than we thought.

For years, the religious parties were careful to provide a general and consistent explanation for their behavior: "We only do what the rabbis say." Then came the current crisis, which almost sent the citizens of Israel to snap elections, and there ends the legend.

Suddenly, when you really want to, you find incredible flexibility and the ability to change decisions of the Council of Torah Sages from end to end, twice that day. From the political salad of last week, the ultra-Orthodox are the first to go out and lose. None of their first demands were met, and they created a problematic public atmosphere and a situation in which all coalition elements are already indifferent to threats from their direction.

AP Photo/Uriel Sinai, Pool

On the winning side after the crisis, it seems, are Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Kahlon is about to pass a fifth consecutive budget, probably a record; Lieberman got what he wanted - and despite a real threat for elections he did not want, he did not blink for a moment.

Kahlon's assessment throughout most of the crisis was that it was solvable, but even when he doubted that, he insisted on keeping his cool. He was not interviewed in a panic, as others who were exposed during the crisis as fearing elections, and he did not zigzag as Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox did.

Transition government

So what actually happened here? How did the citizens of Israel almost go to the polls? Netanyahu could not have had a better date for the elections, this is understood by any political novice and certainly by the prime minister. The reason is simple: from now on his legal situation will deteriorate. Testimonies of state's witnesses in corruption probes into his affairs will be leaked, and who knows what else the future holds for him. This was the last chance to take a walk. He, too, understands this, but this time he received a lesson in the limits of power.

Led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu’s coalition closed in on him from all directions. At first, they joined in opposition to snap elections in June, and then, they narrowed gaps in the dispute between Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox. Netanyahu became imprisoned in his own government.

AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

In practice, this is a transitional government - there is no way out. This political crisis will not disappear,either. It will be revived after the Knesset holidays, when Netanyahu is in a worse legal situation. On the other hand, there are those around him who claim that as his legal situation worsens, he will be able to ride the waves of allegations of persecution and acquire more and more public sympathy.

As it seems at the moment, I will see you in the March 2019 elections. By then, all players have the opportunity to improve positions and some of them also practice pressure-response workshops.

Stuttering in opposition

"My friends in the opposition - it was scary, ah? I'm glad the color has returned to your cheeks," Netanyahu said yesterday in the Knesset plenum after the crisis ended. Right or wrong, opposition party leader Avi Gabbay and the members of his Zionist Union camp will need some soul-searching. Even in the gloomy state in which the party finds itself in the polls, it can not stammer in a way that is interpreted as a bluff.

Opposition member and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid also needs a house check. During the crisis it was hard to identify in him the determination that would be required to challenge Netanyahu at the ballot box. There is no room for politeness here. That's not taking elections -- not against Netanyahu.

This article is published courtesy of Ynet.

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