The coalition deal signed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni was merely a signal that progress is being made, that Netanyahu is well on his way to forming a coalition of 57 Knesset members.
The signal was meant for Naftali Bennett. Habayit Hayehudi's chairman and Netanyahu are on course for a head-on collision. If they want to prevent an accident, one of them will have to swerve at the last minute. But that will make a victor of the man who doesn't flinch. So far Bennett and Netanyahu have each pressed hard on the accelerator, even though their cars are in neutral. They have honked loudly, surrounded by clouds of exhaust, while crowds of supporters cheered them on from the sidelines.
Netanyahu's signing of Livni was the signal for both cars to start driving.
Bennett believes that Netanyahu will ultimately swerve — in other words, Netanyahu will sign a deal with him and Lapid and leave the ultra-Orthodox out of the coalition.
But Netanyahu appears steadfast. His associates will tell anyone within earshot that he would prefer new elections to a government with no haredim that is dependent on the caprices of Lapid. Netanyahu is counting on a revolt within Habayit Hayehudi that will force Bennett to enter the government once the threat of new elections becomes imminent.
On the other hand, Bennett is also standing firm, saying he will not break his bond of understanding with Lapid, even if that leads to new elections. Despite Netanyahu's hopes, Bennett's inner circle believes his position within Habayit Hayehudi is unassailable, and that the party will not be easily pressured or broken into factions.
Bringing Livni into the coalition was a small step. Adding Mofaz would be seen as a miniscule step. The big step, the point of no return, would be to sign one of the haredi parties into a coalition. There would be no way to undo that, and it would force all the other players to rethink their positions if they hope to achieve a 57-member coalition.
It was a good idea for Bennett to convene his party's convention on Wednesday. For now, he enjoys the almost total support of his party's central committee, its Knesset members and rabbis. But it's safe to assume that if the convention met again in two weeks and negotiations were as deadlocked as they are today, the situation might be totally different.