The clearest thing that can be extrapolated from the exit polls and partial results of the ongoing vote count is the painful collapse of Gideon Sa’ar. He launched his New Hope party with splendid poll numbers, and improved on it with the exceptional acquisition of Zeev Elkin – who is in competition with Avi Nissenkorn over the most tragic political gamble of the year.
This collapse, which appeared more likely as Election Day neared, is further evidence that Likud has emptied itself out of anything that is not Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud ballot slip should have been replaced a long time ago, because the voters for this party are no longer placing a ballot for Likud. They are voting – in their own words – Bibi.
Sa’ar’s collapse, like the rather lukewarm result for Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett and the impressive achievement of the far-right party – in which Bezalel Smotrich is the farthest to the left and most liberal – demonstrate the two pillars on which the Israeli right stands: Bibism and Kahanism. The repeated attempts to create another right-wing alternative have failed time after time because they include an internal contradiction:
Netanyahu is destroying government institutions as we know them, to the delight of his fans who have been waiting for the angel of death who will tear down the towers of the old elites with their residents still inside. The deep right, which waves the banner of “encouraging the migration” of Palestinians or even harsher steps in the spirit of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s cry “Arabs Out,” despises the value of civil equality. In short, "right-wing" and "statesmanlike behavior" go together like oil and water.
It is still possible to draw some encouragement from the fact that the Israeli left did not annihilate itself, and voted for its representatives instead of handing over the keys to polite right-wing representatives just because they hate Netanyahu. It is also possible to be amused by the idea that Naftali Bennett will be in no hurry to join a Netanyahu government – something he never committed to either way. The first sentence is a very small comfort, while the second is a false hope.
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Bennett wants to lead the Israeli right, and likely also Likud after Netanyahu’s departure. It’s not important how tough Bennett will be in the negotiations – and he will be able to receive high-quality ministerial portfolios such as defense and justice without a great deal of difficulty – but these aspirations also limit him.
To screw over a right-wing government led by Netanyahu? A move that borders on insanity if you want to succeed him. In addition, it is quite possible that because of the election results Sa’ar will decide to retire from politics, and the remnants of his party will decide to “influence from the inside” and bring in with them a small bit of politeness and civility to the umpteenth Netanyahu government.
But all of these discussions already belong to the past. The relevant question now is how the next government that will arise here will stop Netanyahu’s trial, and how its partners – religious, nationalist and Messianic – will be compensated.