JERUSALEM(VINnews) — Road no.1, the main artery connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was predictably blocked on Monday afternoon. However the reason for the traffic jam was unusual on this occasion. A cavalcade of motorcars bearing flags and signs “Netanyahu, resign” wended its way slowly down the right lane in a demonstration of its frustration and exasperation over the political impasse for whom they hold the indicted prime minister responsible.
This ad hoc demonstration was only one of numerous attempts to garner public support for the left-wing attempts to dislodge Netanyahu. So far the demonstrations, which may well have influenced the attorney-general’s decision last Thursday to indict Netanyahu on counts of bribery, corruption and breach of trust, have yet to significantly impact the political situation in Israel. In the vacuum created by the failure to establish a government, Netanyahu remains the elected prime minister if only a caretaker at present, and attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit stressed Monday that he cannot be forced to resign. However it remains to be seen whether Mandelblit will allow Netanyahu to form another government even in the unlikely event that he wins what looks like yet another election.
Likud MK Gidon Sa’ar is convinced that Netanyahu’s legal woes have crippled his ability to form a government. Sa’ar has gone as far as saying that in his present situation, the prime minister is a burden on the country since he is the reason a government cannot be formed. He has therefore requested instant primaries in the Likud so that if he wins he could have a chance of forming a government before the end of the 21-day period allowing for any member of Knesset to attempt to form a government and thus prevent a gratuitous election which is unlikely anyway to break the deadlock.
Sa’ar may have overstepped politically. Netanyahu still enjoys a huge power base within the Likud which regardless of the serious charges levelled against him is convinced that he is not just innocent but also an asset for the party. Over a decade of Netanyahu’s sole leadership in Israel has established him both as the longest-serving prime minister and as the most successful one. The spectacular economic growth in Israel coupled with the unprecedented diplomatic coups during the Trump era can in a large part be attributed to Netanyahu. Likewise the decision by the US administration to abrogate the nuclear agreement with Iran is directly due to Netanyahu’s diplomatic lobbying in his capacity as foreign minister.
Yet despite this Sa’ar’s initiative is a strong sign that the sharks are smelling blood. Unlike Amir Peretz, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Avigdor Liberman who called for Netanyahu’s resignation this week, Sa’ar cannot be accused of being left-wing. A diehard member of the Likud and former education minister, Sa’ar took a break from politics a few years ago to spend more time with his family. When he returned, he found himself in the political wilderness, shunned by Netanyahu and his associates for merely having the political potential to replace him. Unlike some other Likud leaders, Sa’ar is confident, charismatic and capable. He keeps Shabbat and maintains a traditional lifestyle but is also a member of the Tel Aviv secular elite and is married to TV anchor Geula Even. Thus Sa’ar is favored by the religious parties but may also make inroads into Blue-And-White’s voter base and his mutiny is even more painful to Netanyahu than the baying of his other political opponents. As Julius Caesar would have said, “Et Tu Sa’ar?”
Sa’ar’s position is totally logical. The prime minister has failed twice to form a government and there is no reason to believe that he will succeed at the third attempt. Yet what Sa’ar has underestimated is not just the internal Likud support for Netanyahu but also the support of his coalition partners. In the past two months, the 55-member right-wing bloc formed by Netanyahu immediately after the election has held firm despite numerous attempts to breach it. The present legal predicament of Netanyahu has resonated with all of his right-wing colleagues who have suffered immeasurably from the tendentious approach of the state prosecutor and his cronies.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri is himself a victim as well as an inveterate foe of the judicial system in Israel. After he was hounded for eight years in the nineties on charges of corruption, Deri was sent to jail on the testimony of a state witness who even the judge agreed was a liar. Even now he is frequently questioned about his financial dealings. Similarly UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman has been accused of using his influence to unfairly help a person accused of serious crimes escape extradition to Israel. Litzman categorically denies having committed any offence.
New Right leader Naftali Bennett owes his allegiance to Netanyahu, who recently appointed him Defense Minister. Likewise, his colleague Ayelet Shaked attempted as justice minister to reform the judiciary’s anti-right-wing slant. After the Supreme Court arbitrarily ruled to destroy flourishing neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria even though their ostensible owners had not been located, Shaked initiated the Regulation Law to prevent such actions.
National Union leader Betzalel Smotrich and Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz have also expressed on numerous occasions their opinions about the inherent bias of the legislative institutions. Thus, all of Netanyahu’s right-wing partners see his legal difficulties as an opportunity to lambast the state prosecutor and accuse him of fomenting a political putsch by indicting an incumbent prime minister on flimsy evidence. None of these partners are perturbed by Sa’ar’s salient points, since new elections do not faze them but rather the thought that Israel is a judicial dictatorship.
The right-wing parties have gone as far as convening a demonstration in support of Netanyahu in central Tel Aviv. The demonstration drew an estimated 15,000 people, meaning that the battle lines have already been drawn for the third election. The political stalemate however will most likely continue until either the judiciary is compromised or the prime minister is found guilty. Expect further developments.