In 1992, Israeli Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin came to power with an overwhelming 44 seats against the Likud’s 32. Then-Likud chairman Yitzhak Shamir suffered a major defeat and subsequently resigned. This was when Benjamin Netanyahu won the Likud leadership contest.
Rabin built a coalition with the brand-new Meretz Party (12 seats), which was a merger of three parties (Ratz, Shinui and Mapam) and the religious Shas Party (six seats) to reach 62 in the 120-seat Knesset.
“Oslo I” saw the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and the city of Jericho, where a handful of Jewish families lived and were subsequently expelled under the Accords. The agreement had the support of 62 Knesset members in the plenum and the withdrawal took place.
Then came “Oslo II,” which led to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Nablus.
Shas members couldn’t bring themselves to support another significant withdrawal, especially as Palestinian nationalism was becoming more fanatical, and the security situation was rapidly deteriorating.
Suicide bombers were striking at least once a week across the country, in coffee shops, pizza parlors and buses, and the Rabin government, now with 56 seats, found itself short of a majority in the Knesset.
Rabin believed that the only way to beat the terrorists and achieve peace was to press ahead with faster withdrawals, but he desperately needed to find an extra five MKs who would support him. He observed discontent within the right-wing secular Tzomet Party over party finances, and its leader, Rafael Eitan, refused to allow his colleagues to view the bookkeeping.
Three of the eight Tzomet Knesset members promptly broke away with their own faction, and Rabin naturally reached out to them.
MK Esther Salmovitz refused to support Oslo II, but MK Gonen Segev, who couldn’t resist becoming energy minister, persuaded his colleague, MK Alex Goldfarb, to join the Rabin government.
In the meantime, Rabin secured support from the far-left, predominantly Arab Hadash Party (three seats), and with the two right-wing MKs, pushed through “Oslo II” in a Knesset vote of 61-59.
In other words, Segev and Goldfarb took almost 42,000 right-wing votes and handed them over to Labor and Meretz to pass the agreement. The suicide-bombing attacks against innocent Israelis sharply increased after that.
Last week, Israeli public broadcaster Kan released a survey showing that 61 percent of Yamina supporters would not vote for the party again if there were another election. Now that a coalition deal has been signed, I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure had risen to around 80 percent.
Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett, who describes himself as much further to the right than Netanyahu, claimed before the March 23 election that he would not allow Yesh Atid Party chairman and opposition leader Yair Lapid to become prime minister. He also called on Netanyahu not to rely on the Arab Ra’am Party, headed by Mansour Abbas, even for outside support.
When “Operation Guardian of the Walls” broke out, Bennett withdrew from negotiations with Lapid. He returned to the table, however, to find a way to form a right-center-left-Islamist government if he could become prime minister for part of the time under a rotation agreement.
Similar to the move made by Segev and Goldfarb 30 years ago, today Bennett has taken some 250,000 right-wing votes and handed them over to Lapid, who is now able to form a government with the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties.
That Netanyahu could only reach 59 seats even if Yamina had agreed to join the coalition that he tried to form is beside the point. Yamina voters never imagined that Bennett would take them into a coalition with Labor and Meretz.
If voted into office, the Lapid-Bennett coalition may well agree on passing a budget. It will certainly agree on passing a law that prevents a prime minister under indictment from forming a government, and might also introduce a bill that a prime minister can only serve two terms, to prevent Netanyahu from ever returning to the political arena.
But it is unlikely ever to agree on social and economic issues; funding for kollel and yeshivah studies; talks with the Palestinians proposed by the new administration in Washington; or on settlements, Iran, Gaza or Lebanon.
The Likud will eventually hold a leadership contest, and with 12 candidates lined up to run, the party could fall into a civil war, which is exactly what destroyed Labor.
This coalition may well be known for bringing down Netanyahu through “dirty tricks,” but let’s remember that under his leadership, Likud received 30 seats—13 more than his nearest rival.
I recall when the British Conservative Party was in opposition, after a devastating election crush in 1997 from New Labour, led by Tony Blair, former Conservative leader William Hague said, “I believe once Tony Blair is gone, it will be easier for us to beat Labour again.”
He was right.
The objective of the parties in the anti-Netanyahu camp was to oust Netanyahu from office and the international stage. Why? So that every party would have a better chance of success in the next election. But this is a huge, kick-in-the-teeth way of doing it, and Bennett has given up on his principles and betrayed his voters, just to become premier.
James J. Marlow is a broadcast journalist previously working for ITN, EuroNews, LBC Radio, Daily Express and a number of Jewish publications. In addition, he ran a Media and Communications Training Operation and was a consultant at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. He was also responsible for the training of Shlichim at the Jewish Agency and Bnei Akiva.