THE MASTER magician has drawn another rabbit from his top hat. A real and very lively rabbit.
He has confounded everybody, including the leaders of all parties, the top political pundits and his own cabinet ministers.
He has also shown that in politics, everything can change -- literally -- overnight.
At 2 a.m. the Knesset was busy putting the finishing touches to a law to dissolve itself -- condemning half of its members to political oblivion.
At 3 a.m. there was a huge new government coalition. No elections, thank you very much.
An operetta in 5 acts.
ACT ONE: Everything tranquil. Public opinion polls show Binyamin Netanyahu in absolute control. His popularity is approaching 50%; nobody else's even approaches 20%.
The largest party in the Knesset, Kadima, sinks in the polls from 28 seats to 11, with all indications that it will continue to fall. Its new leader, former Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, gets even less points as candidate for Prime Minister.
Netanyahu could sun himself on the roof of his luxury villa and contemplate the future with equanimity. All is well in the best of all Jewish states.
ACT TWO: Sudden clouds darken the sky.
The Supreme Court, headed by a new president hand-picked by the settlers and the extreme right, hands down a decision: a new neighborhood in Bet-El settlement has to be demolished within two weeks. No ifs and buts, this is a final decision. Also, another settlement, Migron, has to be gone in two months.
Netanyahu is faced with several disastrous possibilities: carry out the court's order, which would break up his coalition, enact a new law that would circumvent the court and be unconstitutional, or ignore the court altogether, which would mark the end of democracy in the Only Democracy in the Middle East.
Like in the book of Job, disaster follows disaster. The term of the temporary law that excuses Orthodox yeshiva students from military service -- about 7,000 this year -- has come to an end, and an overwhelming majority in the country demands its abolition altogether. That would inevitably break up the coalition.
And then something incredible happens. Netanyahu arrives at the inaugural meeting of the new Likud convention. This convention is traditionally a rough and tumultuous scene, resembling the Roman arena in ancient times. Netanyahu is a master of these assemblies. This time, too, he is warmly received and, on live TV, proclaims to the nation the fabulous achievements of his three-year-old government. He then asks to be elected convention chairman, which would give him control over the candidates' list in the next elections.
Then the really unbelievable happens. Half the members in the hall jump up and start shouting at him. Like Nicolae Ceausescu on a memorable occasion, Netanyahu stares at his underlings uncomprehendingly.
It appears that in the recent Likud registration drive, the settlers made a concerted effort to stuff the party with their people. These have no intention of ever voting for the Likud (they vote for the more extreme Right) but want to blackmail Netanyahu. Coming early, they pack the much-too-small hall in which the convention takes place. Since they all wear a kippah, they are easily recognizable. They shout demands for the election of the chairman by secret ballot. Netanyahu surrenders and the convention is postponed.
Smarting from this public humiliation, Netanyahu swears revenge.