Even if Likud Forms Government, Netanyahu Era Is Over

Netanyahu’s physical departure from the political arena would only be postponed for a year or two, and the result of the next election would only be a tougher, more profound loss.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Netanyahu during a press conference, January 1, 2015.
Netanyahu during a press conference, January 1, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel’s election on Tuesday is the culmination of one of the most emotional, intense, dramatic and stunning campaigns in the country's history. Millions of Israelis are going to the polls, and the outcome is anything but clear. The possibilities are almost endless. As the cliché goes, one must expect the unexpected.

What is a little more clear is the assessment being made on both the right and the left that this election could signal the end of the Netanyahu era of in local politics. The prime minister is the one who called this election. Some would say that he pushed for it due to opposition from political rivals Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni; others would say he was pushed into it by his patron, American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, because of the so-called Israel Hayom law.

Whatever the reason may be, Netanyahu apparently regrets the move he made. If he were to know then that on the eve of the election he would in danger of seeing Likud sink to fewer than 20 Knesset seats and trailing the Zionist Union by four – he certainly would looked for any possible means to stave off the coalition crisis for as long as possible.

During this campaign, Netanyahu learned a lesson like never before. Over the last three months, he has been exposed, in the most severe fashion, to the disappointment, anger and revulsion felt toward him from large swathes of the Israeli public, including some of those who would traditionally vote Likud without thinking twice.

Whether or not Netanyahu has internalized it, this campaign has shown how cut off he is from public opinion. All of the polls published in recent months have shown that he doesn’t understand which issues concern voters, and that he doesn’t speak the language of the average Israeli.

Netanyahu has busied himself with fearmongering about Iran and the Islamic State, with slogans about governance and changing the system of government, with clashes with U.S. President Barack Obama and making the speech before Congress. But Israelis were interested in housing prices, hospital emergency-room crowing and the cost of living, and were horrified by the stories and reports of the hedonism and excessive spending attributed to Netanyahu and his family.

The prime minister didn’t understand that this election is about him, and his performance over the last two terms. When he finally realized just how dire his situation was, he threw the Iranian nuclear threat aside and started confessing his sins into every microphone he could find, admitting his failure in bringing down housing prices, declaring his intention to appoint the popular Moshe Kahlon as finance minister, and explaining that he understands the burdens and difficulties facing many citizens.

Netanyahu’s primary problem is that Likud voters know him all too well, and they know that people don’t change, let alone at age 65. Even Shas chairman Arye Dery – who has declared that he will recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Netanyahu be charged with forming the next government – knows that Netanyahu won’t actually take care of two million “transparent” people. Kahlon, who has said he will “make Bibi social-welfare oriented,” knows that that’s a pipe dream.

Many Likud supporters are saying, either publicly or behind closed doors, that given another term, Netanyahu won’t accomplish what he’s failed to do in six years. Thus, many of them will vote Kahlon, Lapid or even Isaac Herzog/Tzipi Livni.

This election is part of a longer process, a steady downward trend in support for Netanyahu and Likud that began during the social protests of 2011, and continued through the 2013 election in which Netanyahu managed to hold onto the reigns because of a strange deal concocted with Avigdor Lieberman. The trend reached its height during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Dr. Yoaz Hendel, a former Netanyahu spokesman, analyzed the premier’s current situation in a recent interview in The New York Times, and noted that even a cactus running against Netanyahu would manage to steal Knesset seats from him.

It’s possible that the prime minister's "gevalt campaign" over the last few days will manage to return two or three seats to Likud from Habayit Hayehudi and close the gap slightly between him and Herzog, but as of right now, it appears that Netanyahu will not win this election.

Netanyahu is fighting an all-out war to remain in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street. If it were up to him and his family, a battalion of paratroopers or border patrolmen wouldn’t be able to get him out of there. The prime minister understands that if he leaves that residence, he won’t be going back. But even if he manages to summon, yet again, some kind of political magic and forms a coalition, its only real foundation will be trying to hold onto power temporarily. Netanyahu’s physical departure from the political arena would only be postponed for a year or two, and the result of the next election would only be a tougher, more profound loss.

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