Bibi Agonistes

There’s another political development elsewhere that could even overshadow the British elections: suddenly, shockingly, Bibi Netanyahu’s grip on a new government in Israel has slipped considerably. His Foreign Minister and bitter rival in right-wing circles, Avigdor Lieberman, abruptly resigned and took his Yisrael Beiteinu party out of Bibi’s Knesset coalition. That means the Likud-led bloc is down to the bare minimum needed to hold a majority, with Netanyahu now totally dependent on the success of negotiations with another right-wing rival, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party, who is already demanding major cabinet posts in order to go along.

And the final, no-kidding deadline for forming a government–already extended to the maximum allowed by the law–is midnight tomorrow.

There’s a lot going on under the surface here, and a lot I really don’t understand. But it seems Bibi is reaping the whirlwind for a last-minute campaign strategy of trying to consolidate Likud’s leading position by pulling voters from other right-wing parties. And so, even if he placates Bennett and gets his government, Netanyahu’s grand strategy of holding early elections to give himself a more stable and conservative coalition seems to have backfired.

As Josh Marshall notes today, Bennett’s whip hand could exert some painful concessions:

Bennett…holds Netanyahu’s fate almost totally in his hands and can demand almost anything of him. The main demands seem to be the foreign ministry and/or the Justice ministry. But both of those are tough asks because Bennett’s party is radioactive to the international community on his total rejection of a two state solution and dismal stance on civil rights and minority rights.

But the only alternatives involve big shifts in another direction:

There are a couple other longshot possibilities. Netanyahu could shift course entirely and try to bring the Zionist Camp/Labor into his government. There is extreme opposition to this among Labor voters and personally I think this would be a tragic turn of events. But it could happen if Netanyahu offered up enough. Maybe. He might also try to split off some members of Yesh Atid.

Who knows.

We’ll all know by tomorrow. The one thing that’s really clear is that Bibi has richly earned his current problems.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.