With Livni as his fig leaf, Bibi can now form an extremist government

After signing Tzipi Livni onto his coalition, Netanyahu doesn’t need Yair Lapid anymore – he can have the haredim and Naftali Bennett while pacifying Obama.   

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [file photo], Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [file photo], Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO
Give the devil his due: Bibi pulled off a masterstroke yesterday by signing Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party to his coalition. Now he’s got clear sailing to his ideal government – one made up of the right wing and ultra-Orthodox, his base, but one that also keeps Obama and the Europeans off his back by giving the appearance – completely hollow – that he intends to try to move toward peace with the Palestinians. That’s Livni’s role, and she’ll be happy to play it; she’s been given the job of heading up negotiations with the Palestinians, which is what she always wanted, and it saves her from dying politically in the opposition with her six measly Knesset seats.

The important thing is that Netanyahu doesn’t need Yair Lapid anymore. Lapid was a problem – if Netanyahu gave in to his core demand to draft the haredim into military or civilian national service, he would have a haredi intifada on his hands and the haredim for enemies. But if on the other hand he rebuffed Lapid, whose Yesh Atid is the second largest party, he wouldn’t have enough support in hand to build a coalition, for which he needs a majority of the 120-member Knesset. But now he’s got Livni’s Hatnuah. Which means he can scoop up the haredim as well as Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party, which, despite Bennett’s rhetoric, doesn’t want to draft the haredim because that would mean a schism with the settlers, and really only wants to expand settlements, strengthen Jewish nationalism and bash the Palestinians, which Likud-Beiteinu and the prospective haredi parties in the government want to do, too, and which Livni won’t have the power to stop.

Given the choice of making an enemy out of Lapid or out of the haredim, Netanyahu was always a thousand times more scared of alienating the haredim. After all, they will be around long after Lapid is gone, which may happen earlier than expected if and when he is consigned to the opposition, where neither he nor his middle-class constituency ever wanted to be.

So Bibi, after seemingly being stymied by the contradictory demands of Lapid and the haredim, has got the result he wanted. Between Likud-Beiteinu, Hatnuah, haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, Jewish Home and the anybody’s party Kadima, he can have a government of 69 MKs – eight more than he needs. And if that coalition doesn’t hold together, he can try to bring in Labor, or at least some of Labor’s more pliable Knesset members.

Anyway you slice it, by signing up Livni, Netanyahu is on track to form a sizable, coherent, secure government that satisfies his three crucial constituencies – the settlers, the haredim and Western leaders – without alienating anybody that can give him trouble. (The secular middle-class that voted for Lapid is basically apolitical, has a very short attention span, and will not hold a serious grudge against Netanyahu for caving into the haredim. After all, who hasn’t?)

Thus, Bibi ensures his political survival while crafting a government that will let him go on pursuing his dual ideology: nationalism and capitalism. Building military, economic and diplomatic power. Siding with the haves against the have-nots. Screwing the enemy.

The only ones who have both the ability and the interest to get in his way are the Palestinians, and I wish them all the luck.