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The end of the Netanyahu era? Not quite yet

You have to feel for President Reuven Rivlin, a quintessential democrat, an old school gentleman and a mensch for all seasons. He thought he’d seen it all, yet nothing prepared him to task a politician with forming a government for the seventh time in as many years.

More than anyone, Rivlin knows this ain’t over and that Netanyahu’s rivals should curb their enthusiasm and pace their hyperventilation. This ain’t over not because an athletically sturdy woman (you can’t say “fat” in Israel) has yet to sing, but because this is Benjamin Netanyahu he’s dealing with. And while Mr. Netanyahu’s abilities and talents to build are questionable to some, his innovation, persistence and stamina to disrupt and destroy are second to none. This is what he will try and do to Yair Lapid in the upcoming days.

After a 28-day long exercise in predictable futility, Mr. Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expired at midnight, Tuesday. On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin tasked Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid party to try and form a government, which will most likely be a joint-rotational government with Naftali Bennett.

The only path remotely available to Netanyahu is to torpedo such a government and force another election. So starting now, expect Netanyahu to be in full-disruptive mode, promising everything from Brooklyn Bridge to prime property on Mars to whomever defects from a Lapid-Bennett government.

Following Netanyahu’s fourth successive failure to win a majority, the Israeli political system went into apoplectic spasms. An already tenuous democracy, strained by years of Netanyahu challenging it, and high noon has arrived.

Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid Photo by Getty Images

The last two weeks have witnessed a dangerous meltdown of the only prime minister in the history of democracies who has declared and waged war on his own country, its constitution, processes, institutions, judiciary and checks and balances. He has done so incrementally in the last five years, but the confluence of his indictment, then trial, and his failure in the election cycles, led to an all-out assault.

Absurdly, the Netanyahu sycophants are floating the narrative that a government led by someone on trial, supported by anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox parties, a racist, homophobic and misogynist “national religious” party and the Arab Israeli branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ra’am party) is actually a “National”, “Patriotic” and “Responsible” government.

The alternative, a possible coalition of 65 seats in the 120-member Knesset, consisting of three right-wing parties (Yamina, Israel Beitenu and New Hope), two centrist parties (Yesh Atid and Kahol Lavan) and two left-wing parties (Labor and Meretz) which comprise a combined 13 seats is actually a “dangerous, left wing” government, an evil manifestation of the old elites, the deep state and the cabal that is out to get Netanyahu.

Like Americans who buy into Trump’s big lie, according to which he won the election which was criminally stolen from him, there are enough Netanyahu supporters out there – but not a majority by any count – buying into this ludicrous conspiracy theory. Mr. Netanyahu found out the hard way that even demagoguery, public opinion manipulation and straight out lies have limits and require a minimal level of credibility.

Lapid now has 28 days to form a government, made up of right-wing, left-wing, centrist and Arab parties, and reach a prime ministerial power-sharing rotation agreement with Bennett. Lapid won 17 seats, Bennet seven, but the numbers don’t tell the full story: The coalition system produces abnormal outcomes. Without Bennett and the anti-Netanyahu right-wing parties he has no government, so power-sharing becomes a prerequisite.

The motivation that may enable such a coalition’s formation and conceivably facilitate a functioning government down the road is a burning desire to cleanse Israeli politics from the effects of Netanyahu’s 12-years reign.

The glue that holds it together is a fundamental rejection of and fatigue with Netanyahu. The common denominators are few and far apart, and such a government will most certainly avoid dealing with contentious and controversial issues. It will be labeled a “healing” or “reconstructive” period. An interregnum government designed for one purpose only: Rehabilitating democracy and governance.

Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done? We’ll know in two years.

So while many in Israel are exulted, celebrating “the end of an era,” the formation of a new coalition is not a formality. The glue that holds it together is a fundamental rejection of Netanyahu. In the next week or so, we’ll see if they manage to overcome the huge gaps between them. In the next months, we’ll see if they can make it work.

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