The beginning of the end for Bibi? - analysis
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU speaking at the podium in Knesset, August 2, 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Likud source: "He's becoming a loser, dragging Likud down. He needs to consider his position."
Four Likud Knesset members eating Jerusalem Mixed Grill sandwiches at the Hatzot restaurant on Agrippas Street not far from the Knesset concocted plenty of conspiracy theories on Tuesday.
Two of them, Nir Barkat and Yuli Edelstein, hope to succeed former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as head of Likud. The third, Haim Katz, is chairman of the powerful Likud central committee and has become an ally of Barkat. The fourth, Eti Atiah, is a confidante of Katz and a relatively unknown MK whose face is fairly unfamiliar.
But Barkat and Edelstein were immediately recognized in the photo of their table spread on social media.
Were they planning a Likud rebellion? Would they soon be eating Netanyahu for lunch?
“There was no conspiracy other than that we had two hours between votes and we were hungry,” Katz said.
Edelstein and Barkat also cautioned against reading too much into the photo. But they clearly did not mind being seen in public together, or they would not have gone there.
The timing of the picture was also significant. The day before, Netanyahu lost a key secret ballot vote in the Likud faction on the party’s candidate for the judicial selection committee. It was Netanyahu’s first loss of any kind in the Likud for 12 years.
MK Keren Barak had the support of 80% of the faction until Netanyahu endorsed her. Since losing to MK Orly Levy-Abecassis in an 18-11 vote, Barak has told people that she would have won had Netanyahu not backed her publicly.
“In that secret-ballot vote, the true balance of power in Likud was revealed,” said a Likud source. “The vote wasn’t for or against Barak or Levy; it was a vote against Bibi, and two-thirds of the faction made their voice heard.”
The day after that meal, Netanyahu lost again, this time in the Knesset plenum. In a vote for the judicial selection committee, MKs Efrat Rayten (Labor) and Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionist Party) were selected, leaving the Likud with no representative on the committee for the first time in two decades – at a time when six Supreme Court justices are about to be appointed.
The Knesset, as a whole, clearly wanted to send a message to Netanyahu that it did not want him touching the courts when he is on trial. Likud MKs admitted voting against their own party’s candidate to send the public a more serious message about the former prime minister.
“Bibi has reason to worry, because this is the beginning of the end for him,” a Likud source said. “He is becoming a loser, dragging Likud down. He needs to consider his position after this big failure.”
But no, Netanyahu is not going anywhere any time soon, although if Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stays in power for two years and his rotation with Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid approaches, that could be the time when a majority of the Likud plucks up the courage to tell Netanyahu that he has to step aside to prevent Lapid taking power.
Lapid has received tons of flak since KAN political correspondent Michael Shemesh revealed on Wednesday that he has not been attending meetings of the corona cabinet. The criticism intensified after he said he did not feel the need to start attending those meetings.
His explanation was that the discussions had nothing to do with his Foreign Ministry and that he trusted Bennett did not satisfy his critics who were handing the foreign minister bad press he is not used to receiving.
There were those who speculated that the reason Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman have not attended the meetings is that they did not want to be blamed for whatever goes wrong with COVID-19 in Israel. Deflecting responsibility is not a good strategy for becoming prime minister.
Lapid could still change course and start attending the meetings. If he does not, he could find himself having enough time to go out to restaurants, as Likud MKs do nowadays.