Coalition is not resting, not stunned – it’s dead. Let campaigning begin

 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (photo credit: REINHARD KRAUSE/REUTERS+MARC SELLEM ISRAEL/THE JER)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett
(photo credit: REINHARD KRAUSE/REUTERS+MARC SELLEM ISRAEL/THE JER)

And then everything unraveled. In a way, one could say this election is happening early because someone in Hamas decided to check a suspicious-looking van last Sunday night.

One of Monty Python’s most famous sketches is called “Dead Parrot.” A man shows up at a pet store to return the parrot he bought, after finding it to be dead. “It’s not dead, it’s resting,” the pet shop proprietor says. “He’s stunned,” he tries again, when the purchaser insists that he knows a dead parrot when he sees one. “He’s pining for the fjords,” the salesman says, because the parrot is of a fictional Norwegian breed.
Finally, the parrot purchaser decided he’s had enough, and breaks into a rant: “It’s passed on. It’s no more. It has ceased to be. It has expired and gone on to meet its maker. This is a late parrot!”
Someone should repeat that rant to Netanyahu, but replace “parrot” with “coalition.”
To be fair, unlike the parrot, this coalition’s death is not yet final. The Knesset has yet to be dispersed. But the chances of resuscitation are very slim, leaning towards impossible, making Netanyahu’s repeated statements – three this weekend alone! – that he is going to keep the coalition intact sound close to delusional.
It’s safe to assume that these statements are just spin, since Netanyahu told Education Minister Naftali Bennett that the coalition doesn’t have a chance with only 61 seats, according to a source with knowledge of their Friday meeting.
Instead, Netanyahu is trying to do damage control after a very bad week for him.
It’s hard to remember at this point, but last week was supposed to be an easy one for Netanyahu. The Knesset has long been buzzing with election talk, but no one thought it would happen this fast, because of scheduled events.
The prime minister went to France for the ceremony marking 100 years since the World War I armistice, where he was treated with utmost respect and given prime real estate in the lineup of world leaders, meeting with US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While in Paris, Netanyahu held a press conference where he said there is no diplomatic solution for Gaza as long as Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, is in charge, and the only thing left to do is “go to some kind of arrangement” to keep the situation calm.
And then everything unraveled.
In a way, one could say this election is happening early because someone in Hamas decided to check a suspicious-looking van last Sunday night.
That vehicle was carrying IDF commandos who presumably were on an intelligence-gathering mission. Their botched operation ended with one IDF officer and seven Hamas members dead. Hamas retaliated by firing some 460 rockets at Israeli civilian populations in a little over 24 hours. The Security Cabinet followed the advice of the IDF and all security agencies to accept a ceasefire.
Avigdor Liberman, who says he spoke out against a truce in the cabinet meeting, resigned as defense minister the next day. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said it would be best to go to an election as soon as possible, and Interior Minister Arye Deri and Education Minister Naftali Bennett followed suit.
And here we are, with Netanyahu saying he will try to convince Kahlon to stave off an election this spring.
An election resulting from events out of Netanyahu’s control is the last thing he wants. He orchestrated early elections in 2013 and 2015, even if he called them in response to coalition partners’ actions. This would not only be an early election he clearly was not seeking, it would be launched amid accusations of him being weak on security, when Netanyahu is supposed to be Mr. Security.
So the only politically reasonable way for Netanyahu to respond is to try to delay the inevitable and deflect the blame.
There is a slim chance his attempt to save his government will work. But in the likelihood that it doesn’t, Netanyahu has already pulled out the old trump card of 1992. Some on the Right are still traumatized from the right-wing Tehiya party pulling out of then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government, triggering an election that Labor won, leading to subsequent prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signing the Oslo Accords.
Blaming Bennett and Kahlon – he knows this line won’t work on Deri’s voters, since Shas played an instrumental role in the Oslo Accords getting approved by the Knesset – for risking a potential Oslo rerun is a play to rile up his right-wing base. It’s a distraction from the other thing riling up the Right, where many are saying Hamas was let off easy after launching its biggest-ever one-day barrage of rockets, and it’s a precursor to his recurring election slogans presenting the Left as weak and potentially dangerous.
In other words, it seems Netanyahu has already launched his campaign, which means he has recognized that this is out of his control and that an election is about to be called. The coalition is, like Monty Python’s parrot, dead.