On what could be his final weekend as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is gearing up for one more battle to keep his job and extend his 12-year reign as Israel’s leader.
Over the last week, Netanyahu has accused his successor, Naftali Bennett, of perpetrating “the worst election fraud in the history of the country” and forming a “dangerous” administration, using language that echoes former US President Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations after the 2020 election. On Thursday, Netanyahu’s Likud party reduced its baseless charges of election fraud significantly.
Rather than claiming that votes were miscounted or that there was systemic fraud, the party started on Twitter that “Bennett snatched votes from the right and transferred them to the left, despite his [campaign] promises to the contrary. We don’t know what else to call it if this isn’t a fraud.”
The Likud party predicted there will be a peaceful handover of power to a new administration in a Twitter thread shared by Netanyahu. “There has always been and will always be a peaceful transition of power in Israel,” the Likud declared. Unnamed others, according to the party, are to fault for how Netanyahu’s statements were “distorted.”
But it doesn’t mean Netanyahu is accepting defeat or quietly leaving the Prime Minister’s official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. Netanyahu has represented himself as the only person capable of keeping Israel secure from threats from Iran, Gaza, and Lebanon.
Bennett has a razor-thin 61-seat majority in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset.
Netanyahu and his allies have been pressuring right-wing Yamina and New Hope legislators to vote against Bennett’s new cabinet in a vital confidence vote slated for Sunday afternoon.
Bennett’s attempt to unseat the man for whom he once worked will certainly fail, forcing Israel to have its fifth election in two and a half years. However, if the plan fails, Netanyahu will remain as interim Prime Minister, a position he has occupied through most of Israel’s recent political instability.
“Whoever is right does not vote for a left-wing government, and whoever is for a left-wing government is not right,” Netanyahu tweeted earlier this week as part of his ongoing pressure campaign on Bennett.
Bennett bolstered his coalition’s support when a member of his own Yamina party confirmed his support on Tuesday, despite the fact that his party is regarded as one of the most likely to defect and destroy the fledgling administration.
Bennett asked Israel’s longtime leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, to support an orderly transition of power and not to leave “scorched soil” in his wake on Sunday.
“This isn’t a tragedy, it’s not a catastrophe. It is a change of administration. In any democratic country, this is a common occurrence “Bennett stated at a press conference in the Knesset, Israel’s 120-seat parliament, on Sunday night. “The state of Israel does not have a monarchical system. There is no such thing as a monopoly on power.”
Netanyahu has not officially surrendered defeat to his former chief of staff, knowing full well that he still has possibilities to exploit rifts and divisions in Bennett’s ministry. The coalition, which will include right-wing, left-wing, and Arab parties, is expected to be the most diverse in Israel’s history.
However, the alliance of eight separate groups, each with its own set of diverse interests, may have little in common other than a desire to depose Netanyahu.
Bennett’s government’s unity will be put to the test on Sunday afternoon when the Knesset meets to debate the coalition’s aims and programs ahead of the swearing-in vote. The debate is scheduled to last several hours, during which Netanyahu and his allies will try to find pressure points to separate one party from the other. The speaker of the Knesset, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, will then call a vote of confidence.
It will be a pivotal moment that will determine not only the country’s leader but also whether Netanyahu, long regarded as Israel’s “magician,” has one more trick up his sleeve.