After a crude and thuggish campaign, in which he trampled the election laws alongside his son, who attacked every government institution, it looks as though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is closer than ever to losing power. Avigdor Lieberman, on the other hand, who repeated his pre-election promises, will probably be the key person in the next Knesset. (Live election results - click here)
Lieberman took to the stage shortly before midnight and fired this major statement: Everything I promised before the election I will fulfill after the election. In other words – only a liberal national unity government, with him, Likud and Kahol Lavan.
If the TV exit polls did not fall victim to an extreme tsunami of lies, then as of Tuesday night the Netanyahu era as we have known it in the past decade is over. Only on Thursday afternoon, at the earliest, will we know for certain whether the man who for the past 111 days has been waging the battle of his life – in political and mainly in personal and legal terms – is about to lose his entire world.
In such a situation, immunity from prosecution is off the agenda and Netanyahu's hearing is only two weeks away. He will arrive weak and vulnerable, and we shouldn’t be surprised if we wake up one day to a plea bargain. Netanyahu was never as close to losing power, to a trial and perhaps even to prison down the road as he was on Tuesday night.
It’s very hard to see how he can form the next government: Whether a narrow government of 61 members (which he doesn’t have) or a national unity government (which he doesn’t have either). In light of the results, Benny Gantz and his colleagues in the leadership of Kahol Lavan will not agree to accept rotation in two years from now.
Netanyahu will also not been able to lead Likud as highhandedly as before. The senior party members, and those with less seniority, understand perfectly well where Netanyahu has dragged them. Anyone who didn’t understand will realize it in the next day or two. Nor will Netanyahu be able to scorn and humiliate them. Now he needs them more than they need him.
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The talk of a putsch in the Likud leadership or primaries to replace him is somewhat premature. It really is worth waiting for the final results. But the names are familiar: Gideon Sa’ar, who according to the public opinion polls is the leading candidate for the Likud leadership, Yisrael Katz, Gilad Erdan and Yuli Edelstein – they were all once his protégés and now he has to be leery of all of them. We won’t hear a word of doubt from them before the picture becomes clear.
His gamble in dissolving the young 21st Knesset and dragging the country into a second election campaign has proven to be catastrophic. Netanyahu has brought disaster both on Likud and on the right-wing ultra-Orthodox bloc. The ruling party lost an average of two or three seats, and if we add Kulanu, six or seven seats – and the camp of “natural partners,” which seemed invincible, lost its parliamentary majority.
Judging by the present situation assessment, Netanyahu is no longer capable of winning an election in Israel. This story is over. The asset has become a burden, his bargaining chips after the election on April 9 were far better than what he has now. He gave them up, only for his own personal interests.
What can Netanyahu offer his partners and his party? A third election campaign? After all, it’s clear that it would lead to a far greater crash than the present one. This election campaign illustrated, for the first time in many years, that there is a conflict of interests between Netanyahu and Likud. He alone is responsible for a huge loss of Knesset seats: Likud plus Kulanu had 30 seats at the start of the campaign (35 + 4), he is left with 32-33 seats at best.
The campaign that he waged led tens of thousands of sane, moderate voters to flee Likud, people who are “mainstream” in their world view and who couldn’t tolerate the attacks by him and his son against every government institution. “I will never vote for that family,” a veteran Likudnik told me this week. There has never been such a violent, false, racist, inciting and base election campaign as that conducted by Netanyahu personally. In recent days the man, who will be 70 in October, embarked on an insane, almost psychotic blitz of running around and telling lies in every possible space – both virtual and physical.
Even yesterday, he crudely and thuggishly trampled on almost all the election laws, when he gave two illegal radio interviews to stations belonging to specific sectors, cited the figures of the public opinion surveys and reports “in the name of journalists” – invented of course – which were scattered in all directions, probably on behalf of Likud.
A criminal remains a criminal, it’s apparently in his blood. He behaved like someone who has lost it. The turning point came on Saturday night two weeks ago, when from the backyard of his home in Caesarea, Netanyahu attacked the directors, editors and reporters of the Channel 12 News, accusing them of an attempt “to commit a terror attack against democracy.”
From then on things went from bad to worse. The insane incitement against “the Arabs” – not the Arab parties, but a community of almost two million loyal citizens – contributed directly to increasing the voting percentage in Arab society. What worked for him in 2015 acted as a double-edged sword on Tuesday.
He made other mistakes: The emphasis on his wife Sara and his son Yair was one of them. Those two are bad news. His appointments – Amir Ohana as justice minister, Rafi Peretz as education minister and Bezalel Smotrich as transportation minister – also caused him damage.
The recent hair-raising reports about his intention of going to war with Hamas, without consulting the heads of the defense establishment, are final proof that the summer-fall 2019 version of Netanyahu is a clear and present danger to Israel’s security. Do those who will be going to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and afterward to coalition negotiations understand that? Whatever the case, if the final results resemble the exit polls, they have no choice but to internalize the new reality.