No Late Blossoms This Election Season

Netanyahu was ripe for defeat this time around, if only the opposition could have gotten its act together.

President Barack Obama’s second inauguration last night was a reminder that in the really crucial election Benjamin Netanyahu has already been defeated.

But it would have been possible to defeat him in the elections being conducted in Israel today as well. He came to them in bad shape, pressured and squeezable, sweating and bleeding Knesset seats. The final proof of his level of panic came in the shape of the pathetic attempt “to do well by the people” just before the clock struck 12 by haplessly appointing Moshe Kahlon as chairman of the board of the Israel Lands Administration.

Alas for the country where this is its leader succumbs to pressure so easily and resorts to last-minute improvisations, and that a leader who presumes to lead it into an existential confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.

There is consolation, as well as logic, in the indifference and scorn with which the Kahlon fiasco has been greeted. In fact, the public climate enveloping Netanyahu in recent weeks bears a surprising resemblance to the atmosphere that preceded his fall in 1999. Then, too, during most of his term in office a feeling had prevailed that despite his failings he was an eternal and invincible leader, until his kingdom imploded suddenly like a house of cards.

Pundits likened Netanyahu's defeated in that election to Ehud Barak as “the blossoming of the cherry.” This botanical image reflected an internal process of ripening in freezing conditions until a stunning outburst emerged at the moment of truth.

Fourteen years later, it seems that conditions have ripened for a rerun. However, this time there is no blossoming in sight. No one has been found who will have the strength to clash head on with Netanyahu and pose a comprehensive ideological alternative.

The natural candidate, Labor Party chair MK Shelly Yacimovich, has acted like a woman running away from the news, as in the title of David Grossman’s recent novel. She cut herself off from diplomatic issues, shrugged off her traditional electorate and tried to re-invent politics until she crashed on the ground of the reality.

A second candidate, Tzipi Livni, who has already failed as leader of the opposition, joined the race too late and has focused only on the diplomatic process while ignoring economic and social contexts. In effect the two of them presented a mirror image: a crooked mirror, reflecting two niche parties instead of one central challenge offering a clear diplomatic and economic (and even gender) alternative to Netanyahu’s way. That would have been an obvious merger of forces, which the two did not have the wisdom to make. This strategic failure overshadows even the electoral failures the two of them are expected to chalk up in the election.

However, to their credit it must be said that they at least have tried to offer a partial alternative to Netanyahu’s way.

The third leading candidate in the center-left bloc, Yair Lapid, has not even done that. He has preferred to continue to devote his lengthy and expensive campaign to an attempt to charm people into liking him and to accumulate political power, which at the end of the election will translate immediately into a gallop into the next Netanyahu government. When this is the level of weakness and limpness in the rival camp, it is no wonder that the challenge most threatening to Netanyahu has come from his right.

In his past term Netanyahu presented a negative model of vacuity and procrastination. He has no real plan for the country’s future, not even ostensibly (as evidence: in an unprecedented way he is coming into the election without a platform).

This time it is important to send into the Knesset parties that are vehemently opposed to his way and next time it will be possible to defeat him. His regime is not a decree of fate. What is needed is the right candidate, someone courageous enough and with a background and a reputation in the area of foreign relations and security. For example, Chief of Staff (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi could well sweep him out of the arena, as did Yitzhak Rabin and Barak.

Even the Ehud Olmert–Amir Peretz axis defeated Netanyahu in an election held only six years ago. It is possible, it could happen, and the citizens of Israel deserve it.