First Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nervously drummed his fingers on the elegant wooden table. Then his entire hand began moving up and down frantically and his gaze wandered all around. He was trying to avoid the steely eyes of the man who once called him “a liar, a cheater and a con man” and “the prime minister of charlatans,” and whom he called “a failed political commentator who isn’t worthy of being a military analyst.”
Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman was also looking for something to do with his hands while the coalition agreement was being signed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin for Likud and MK Robert Ilatov of Yisrael Beiteinu. He got hold of a plastic entry card and was playing with it for a few minutes until the signing ceremony ended and the old-new partners took the podium and gave short speeches without answering reporters’ questions.
That wasn’t Lieberman’s doing. Netanyahu chose this marriage of inconvenience with his bitter rival for purely political reasons. He’s already eyeing the next election. The reason he preferred Yisrael Beiteinu over Zionist Union was his desire to preserve his political base on the right.
But here lies the seed of a clash between the two. Somewhere down the road Lieberman will decide that it’s time to distinguish himself and shake off the Netanyahu yoke.
This time the act of separation will come when he’s defense minister, which guarantees that there will be action. His previous disengagement from Netanyahu and Likud came nearly two years ago, when he was foreign minister during the 2014 Gaza war and made public statements against the prime minister.
At the press conference the two went out of their way, in Hebrew and English, to reassure the public and international community that everything would be fine. They tried to persuade us that the assumption of the defense portfolio by the most extreme, combative and aggressive politician ever, who only two weeks ago gave Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to live from when he took office, did not herald apocalypse now.
“We will continue to act determinedly and responsibly,” Netanyahu declared. He promised to promote peace opportunities and called on opposition leader Isaac Herzog to join the government to help in this endeavor. Lieberman, who looked like a wolf who’d been eaten by a lamb, committed to “prudent and responsible” policies that would bring “stability” to the entire region. Their declarations sounded like an all-clear siren.
Lieberman had abandoned most of his demands, mainly on issues of religion and state. Longtime immigrants from the former Soviet Union will get a (justified) increase to their pensions. The section in the coalition agreement calling for steps to limit the Supreme Court’s power will presumably be scuttled by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
The only problem Netanyahu still has is getting himself and Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett to backtrack from Bennett’s demand to improve the work of the security cabinet. In the meantime, the standoff continues, Haaretz reports.