Thursday September 3, 2015
Israel Hayom
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For Netanyahu and Bennett, politics trump troubled relations
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Mati Tuchfeld

Anything is still possible

The meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett scheduled for Monday proves that nothing can overpower political interests. Whatever Netanyahu's reasons are for his strong disdain for Bennett, the coalition comes first. Bennett's party won 12 Knesset seats in the election, and though Netanyahu may have other options, he cannot afford to rule out an entire party because of personal issues, as momentous as they may be.

But until now, Netanyahu has been making Bennett sweat quite a bit. Despite Bennett's impressive election success, his party is well-known for having zero tolerance for its leaders. Even the leaders who succeeded found themselves booted out in shame. Bennett promised that something new would begin, but the old, familiar underhanded wheeling and dealing is beginning to rise to the surface again.

Bennett will be entering his meeting with Netanyahu already bruised. Immediately after the election, he was still trying to flex his muscles, but now, with members of his party already fighting over ministerial appointments, he will probably be willing to join the coalition at any cost.

Netanyahu's negotiations with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid also prove that nothing trumps politics. Lapid's record in public service and in overseeing complex, high-budget operations, is somewhat lacking, to say the least. But he won 19 Knesset seats in the election. When the ministerial portfolios are distributed, Lapid will get first pick. The Foreign Ministry is unavailable, true, but he could choose to be appointed finance minister if he wanted to, even though his only economic experience is having starred in a commercial for a bank once. He could potentially choose the defense portfolio as well, if he insists, even though everyone knows what his military experience amounts to (Lapid served as a reporter for the IDF magazine "Bamahane"). The Education Ministry is also available to him, even though he never completed his matriculation exams at the end of high school.

The second week of coalition negotiations looks like this: Netanyahu can make deals with the ultra-Orthodox parties, Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz, and then invite either Bennett or Lapid, or both, to join the coalition. If he makes a deal with Lapid, it may mean that Bennett stays out of the coalition, because Lapid has far-reaching demands on limiting the number of ministers in the cabinet. If Lapid is kept out of the coalition, the interesting arena will be the opposition, where Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich and the Arab parties will try to replace Lapid in the leadership role. Alternatively, Lapid's decision not to join the coalition could prompt Yachimovich to try to take his place in the coalition. Anything is still possible.

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