Edelstein throws a challenge against Netanyahu

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu ended his stinging criticism of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a fiery Knesset debate over the state’s budget on Sunday by saying that Lapid-Bennett’s “plane” was on its way to landing.

Netanyahu’s speech was filled with pictures of planes, after he began by saying that when he was a three-year-old child, he put the chairs in the living room of his Jerusalem home in the shape of a plane, sat in the front chair, and called out to his mother: “Look, I’m a pilot, I fly a plane. “

“But I wasn’t. I sat in the chair as if I were a pilot.” “When a three-year-old does, it’s cute. But when Bennett sits in the prime minister’s chair and says, ‘I’m the pilot, I fly the plane, I do the sail’, and in fact he’s not deciding anything, he’s not sailing anywhere.” It’s not cute, it’s pathetic, and I’d say dangerous.”

Netanyahu returned to this aviation topic at the end of his often interrupted 26-minute speech. “Wearing a pilot’s clothes doesn’t make you a pilot. Wearing a prime minister’s uniform, getting the title, and being photographed on the green marble wall at the United Nations, doesn’t make you a real prime minister.”

“Lpid Bennett’s plane is falling,” he declared. “Unmanned, with a flight plan, without a destination, and with a lot of hands-on training in the cockpit, the plane is doomed to crash. But I tell the citizens of Israel, there is hope — because there is another plane waiting on the runway. It is our plane. We will act differently, Just as we did with success until recently.”

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu gestures to the Knesset, July 26, 2021 (Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The only problem, as MK Yuli Edelstein made clear in his announcement the next night that he would challenge Netanyahu to lead the Likud, is that there is no alternative Likud “plane” sitting on the runway ready to fly.

This is the case for two reasons: First, with Netanyahu as pilot, the plane does not have enough fuel – meaning the 61 MKs needed to form a government – to enable it to take off.

Second, there are those on the plane — even those who have been Netanyahu’s past aides — who don’t think he should drive it, precisely because he wouldn’t be able to take the plane off the ground.

Edelstein, abandoning the line that he and other prominent Likud rivals have repeated thus far — that they will vie for the Likud leadership the day after Netanyahu steps aside — has made it clear that he believes the party, if it wants to return to power, cannot wait and must push it aside now. .

“I decided to run to lead the movement simply because the current government is a danger to Israel,” Edelstein said in an interview with Channel 12 on Monday. “We went to elections four times, Likud was four times the largest party in the Knesset – by far – and four times we couldn’t form a Likud-led national government.”

Edelstein, who has called for the primaries to be held as soon as possible—something that at this point seems highly unlikely—said he knows the Likud ranks well (he was No. 1 in the previous Likud primaries, in February 2019).

That knowledge should be behind his strategy, which is not to attack Netanyahu – who remains hugely popular among Likud voters – but instead to try to convince them that continuing to support Netanyahu will only lead to prolonged exile from around the cabinet table.

Edelstein’s message was that Netanyahu should be replaced not because he is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, not because there is necessarily anything wrong with his style of governance, but because there is no reason to believe that if Netanyahu leads the party again, he will succeed in forming a government more than he has. the past four times.

With Netanyahu, we failed four times to form a government. How do we succeed for the fifth time? ” Asked.

Or, as columnist Shmuel Rosner writes, Edelstein’s argument appeals to “the mind, not the heart.”

What Edelstein is saying is that with Netanyahu at the helm of the party, there will be no other “national” coalition led by Likud, but with him – Edelstein – there can be one. It’s not that Netanyahu is bad, just that at this point in his long and storied career, he can’t form a government. So, Edelstein told the Likudniks, if you want to return to power, you’d better replace him.

Should he buy licodinone?

Not according to a Channel 12 poll the night after Edelstein’s announcement. According to the poll, 86% of Likud voters said they favor Netanyahu in the primaries, compared to just 6% who chose Edelstein. (Netanyahu beat his last rival – Gideon Sa’ar – in the 2019 leadership primaries by a margin of 72.5% to 27.5%.)

In other words, this competition isn’t even close, though the numbers may fall short of other potential candidates – like Nir Barkat, Miri Regev, Israel Katz and Avi Dichter – to be thrown into the mix.

The poll also showed that if elections were held today, the strength of the Likud led by Netanyahu would rise from 30 to 34 seats.

But that was only one part of the survey. The poll also indicated that even with these 34 seats, Likud and its allied parties — Shas, United Torah Judaism, and religious Zionists — would eventually get 56 seats, having failed, as they did in the past four elections, to form a government.

The poll also found that if Netanyahu were to be replaced by Edelstein, Likud’s strength would be significantly reduced, dropping to just 20 seats and placing it in first place with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. This is bad news for Likud supporters.

What is the good news about this survey for Likudnis? Even with only 20 seats, Likud, along with other right-wing parties such as New Hope and Bennett’s Yamina, could form a coalition.

That’s why, after a poll that showed Netanyahu would beat him in the primaries, Edelstein’s immediate reaction was to tweet that the poll “clearly proves what I argued last night – Likud under my leadership could form an entire right-wing government early tomorrow morning. It’s either Lapid or I. If we don’t do what is necessary now, Likud will stay out [of power]! “

With no primaries anywhere in sight, why make this a challenge now?

First, Edelstein said, the party apparatus was not asked to trigger the primaries, a process he hopes his announcement will trigger.

Second, Edelstein has been telling party faithful for weeks that the budget approval – expected in early November – is a watershed moment, because after the budget is passed “the currency will drop” for Likud supporters, who will understand that this government does not fall, and they face years in opposition.

The most realistic way to bring down the government after the budget is passed would be a constructive vote of no-confidence, in which an absolute majority of Knesset members would vote no-confidence in the current government and rally around an agreed replacement prime minister, who would do so. Then you are given the task of forming a new one.

Edelstein said that with 72 right-wing members of the Knesset, this should not be a very difficult task. The next day, at the annual Jerusalem Post conference, New Hope leader Sa’ar himself said that if the Likud elects a new president, “everything will be open.”

Edelstein said nothing in his interview about the fact that his wife, Irina Nevzlin, is one of the main candidates for the presidency of the Jewish Agency. This has led to some speculation that the announcement was linked to her candidacy: an attempt to help her chances among the 10 members of the nominating committee, who might shine at the prospect of appointing someone very close to the future prime minister. minister.

But this last consideration – that Edelstein might one day be prime minister – puts the cart before the horse. Edelstein’s first task is to convince Likud voters that Netanyahu cannot form a government, and even that appears a daunting task, with only 17% of Likud voters in a Channel 12 poll saying they agree with this assessment, and 68% who disagree. .

With his willingness to step into the ring with Netanyahu, Edelstein is betting that he can change the minds of Likud supporters. But this is a big gamble. Because, Rosner writes, Edelstein challenges “a heavyweight who is still standing, and who shows no signs of fatigue.”

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