Opinion

The end-of-the-Netanyahu-era Election

This election is like a midterm — a transitional election aimed at the day after the Netanyahu era, which all the political players expect to end in the next year or two for legal reasons

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro swearing-in ceremony at Brazil's National Congress, in Brasilia, Brazil January 1, 2019.
\ ADRIANO MACHADO/ REUTERS

The political map is fragmenting, and though still in its early days, the election campaign is already deep into the circus stage. Likud is currently the only star in the heavens, with a fixed bank of 30 Knesset seats, plus or minus. Around it, the storm rages.

The reason for these two opposing trends, of course, is Benjamin Netanyahu. This election is like a midterm — a transitional election aimed at the day after the Netanyahu era, which all the political players expect to end in the next year or two for legal reasons. Likud, fueled by his façade of stability and success, will go with Netanyahu to the end (and not one moment longer). After that, the party will embark on an extreme version of the chaos whose preview we’re seeing now with the participation of all the other actors.

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It’s tempting to comment on the cruel, shocking incident that occurred at this week’s Zionist Union’s Knesset caucus, but the sad story of the center-left is bigger than this scene. The center-left, which Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak sought to unite into a single bloc — while also, obviously, promoting themselves — is frighteningly divided and falling apart. This is evidently a depressing transitional stage, an inevitable part of the painful process of generational change and of revamping the familiar political frameworks.

Barring some dramatic event that’s hard to envision, the Labor Party is unfortunately approaching the end of its historic role. Yair Lapid, the most serious player among those inhabiting the so-called ambiance parties, is waiting hungrily to swallow up such Knesset seats as Labor still has, even though he is suffering from momentary weakness because Benny Gantz is now in fashion.

What’s happening to the right of these parties is clearer. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked have fulfilled religious Zionism’s worst fears by leaving it to its own woes. This duo, which is fortunately more committed to its own success than to the Greater Land of Israel, is hastening to improve its position in anticipation of Netanyahu’s fall. The abortive ultimatum they gave him six weeks ago and their new political arrangement herald the end of the Netanyahu era. The political revolt will be followed the electoral revolt.

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It’s no accident, incidentally, that Likud is putting most of its energy into attacking this political project. It’s still unclear at this stage how Shaked and Bennett plan to reach the Prime Minister’s Office, by joining forces with Likud or by trying to take it over.

Shaked would be welcomed into Likud with open arms; in fact, she could go there right now. The Prime Minister’s Office views her as less of a red flag than Bennett. Her relationship with Netanyahu is correct, and she refrains from attacking either him or Likud.

If I were Netanyahu, I’d invite her to be my No. 2 (subject to a hearing by his family). But such a move would encounter several obstacles. The first is her genuine loyalty to her political partner, to whom she owes her position and her credit. The second is Netanyahu’s gloomy future, which she herself described at a conference organized by the Calcalist newspaper (“Yes, there are investigations, and we don’t know what will happen in these investigations”).

Shaked won’t join Likud to be another David Amsalem or Miri Regev. It’s not worth her while to get herself dirty on the low road.

To Bennett and Shaked’s right, MK Bezalel Smotrich is turning into the leader of the religious Zionist movement. He is liable to join up with former Shas leader Eli Yishai in order to slightly lighten the Ashkenazi racism of the settlers’ party, or with Baruch Marzel and his gang of Kahanists, who in today’s Israel are worth a little more than a single Knesset seat. The right is very far right.

Thus beyond the clouds of the investigations and the indictments, beyond the approaching end of a very long era, beyond the cacophony of this election, which looks like one enormous process of fragmentation, implosion and shattering, we can make out the next generation that will seek to lead Israel. How do you sleep at night?