With all that’s happening lately in Israel, the prime minister has a lot on his hands. Playing the role of minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs, minister of health, minister of immigration and absorption, and of course prime minister, Netanyahu has to simultaneously deal with the latest security tensions on the northern border and in the West Bank, the growing distress of overcrowding in hospitals, foreign duties that include lengthy trips abroad, and the overall management of the government. Jobs that are usually performed by four different people are all being managed by only one. However, despite all this, Netanyahu seems to have found a sufficient amount of time to deal with an issue that he apparently perceives to be of the utmost importance – the passing of his latest bill, nicknamed the “Gideon Sa’ar Law.”
The bill, brought forward by Likud MK David Amsalem, is a proposed amendment to the Basic Law: The Government. If passed by the full Knesset, it will dictate that the president can only entrust the job of assembling the government to a Knesset member who is a party chairman rather than to any MK of the president’s choosing. The law made headlines when it was passed last week in an unusually fast preliminary hearing. Netanyahu, as the law’s initiator and intended beneficiary, attended the hearing himself and made sure he took part in the vote. When it comes to protecting his throne, Netanyahu doesn’t play games.
According to Israel Hayom, the bill arose following a concern in the prime minister’s office regarding the possibility President Reuven Rivlin was plotting to entrust the job of building the next government to an MK other than Netanyahu if Likud wins the elections. Rivlin’s office responded to the article by attributing paranoia to the person who holds these so-called concerns, which led the prime minister’s office to claim that the plot in question came not from Rivlin but from a “former senior Likud official,” referring to Netanyahu nemesis Gideon Sa’ar. Sa’ar, accordingly, quickly issued a sweeping denial claiming that the allegations are completely delusional.
During Netanyahu’s birthday celebration last month, the prime minister noted that he had discovered that a former Likud minister “instigated a subversive maneuver, in which I would bring the Likud to a winning landslide and then make sure that I will not be prime minister against the will of the public.” The Sa’ar bill is an attempt to thwart the possibility that Likud MKs – who may be nervous about the specter of Netanyahu indictments or may just want to see his back after a decade of Netanyahu as prime minister – will succeed in carrying out a palace coup.
The amendment to the Basic Law is not what’s unreasonable in this situation. Stipulating that the chairman of the faction with the most votes will be the next prime minister does not harm Israel’s democracy, especially since this outcome is nearly always what occurs. However, to claim that Rivlin, a man who has proved many times to hold strong democratic beliefs and qualities of statesmanship, would carry out a coup against the will of the people by granting Sa’ar the mandate to form a government only because he and Netanyahu disagree, is more than paranoia; it’s absurd.
Nonetheless, the current version of the bill that Netanyahu is promoting states that if the prime minister resigns from his role as prime minister, but not from his role as head of his party, no other member of the party can accept the mandate to form a coalition in his place. In other words, if the prime minister is forced for any reason to resign, none of the Likud ministers will be able to form a government. By this, Netanyahu seems to be forcing the Likud members to keep him as safe as possible even if he is indicted, thus binding his fate to theirs. It is also possible that the purpose of the amendment is to deter the Likud members from bringing down the government and forcing immediate elections, a move to which Netanyahu is opposed. Thus, the proposed Basic Law amendment presents him with an excellent way to lock in Likud MKs to continue supporting him until his term officially runs out in November 2019.
No one can really know the main reason behind Netanyahu’s actions, be it trying to deter his fellow Likud members from going against him, attempting to politically eliminate his opponent Sa’ar, or genuinely amending a lacuna in the law. Nevertheless, the amount of time and effort spent on passing a law that has no real immediate importance shows that the coalition is engaged in nothing but preserving the prime minister’s chair. This type of personal legislation can really only be seen as a waste of everyone’s time. A prime minister holding four different ministerial jobs should probably be spending his time on state matters and not on seeking out phantom enemies lurking around every corner to destroy.