Ironically in retrospect, Ariel Sharon once told the Likud central committee that he did not know whether to believe Benjamin Netanyahu’s right hand or his left hand.
While Sharon himself later veered leftward, it can be said that Netanyahu has two right hands –Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman. Liberman and Netanyahu fought bitterly in the previous government. Liberman was so reluctant to work with Netanyahu again that he initially kept his party in the opposition.
But after Netanyahu realized that a narrow coalition of 61 MKs was untenable, he paid Liberman’s steep asking price of the defense portfolio. In return, Liberman has been loyal to Netanyahu and has not rocked the boat politically.
On the sensitive issue of drafting yeshiva students, Liberman could have impressed Russian immigrant voters by taking a secularist position, but instead he has tried to be a consensus builder and let the IDF decide its needs in a professional manner.
Most security decisions are initially made quietly by Netanyahu and Liberman together and only then brought to a vote in the security cabinet. Liberman never exercised his threat to kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, but he has by no means mellowed out in his current post.
Liberman has left his past role of pushing for more action on the Right and borderline warmongering to Bennett, who makes no secret that he wants to be defense minister in the next government.
Unlike Liberman, Bennett has not shied away from sparring publicly with Netanyahu, and when they have battled, Bennett has won. Repeatedly, Netanyahu has taken a stand and then reversed it after Bennett criticized him.
The most recent case was the Jewish Nation-State Law, in which a tweet by Bennett about the law harming the Druze led to Netanyahu taking immediate action to aid that sector.
Other examples include the Supreme Court override bill in April, the settlement arrangements bill in February 2017, and Netanyahu’s solution for migrant workers that he zigzagged and opposed after Bennett called it a surrender.
There was Hebron shooter Elor Azaria, whom Netanyahu initially criticized, then backed, following Bennett’s lead, and the June elections that were not initiated in March after Bennett warned the prime minister not to initiate an election for personal reasons.
The Nation-State Law itself was seen as an attempt by Netanyahu to build up his credentials with his right-wing political base ahead of the next election, when he will again try to take votes from Liberman’s and Bennett’s parties.
With a possible indictment looming for Netanyahu, it will be interesting to see what will happen to Bennett and Liberman and which will be crowned the new leader of the Right or seek the chairmanship of the ruling party in the near future.
If either ever does become Likud leader, it will be worth paying attention to see what ends up happening with their right hand.