How is one to explain the survival of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister for nearly six years, with the opposition unable to raise even one serious candidate to challenge him? Netanyahu is not really popular. Surveys indicate that the majority of the public is dissatisfied with his performance and wants him replaced. He heads a party [Likud] consisting of 18 Knesset members – the lowest number ever for a ruling party. He is not loved within his own party and his coalition partners don’t respect him. So how does he survive?
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One reason is sheer luck.
Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi dug himself into a hole with his own hands in the ongoing Harpaz document affair. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert got bogged down in numerous criminal cases, and Ehud Barak preferred to stay close to the center of power (but not as its head), rather than risking being leader of the opposition. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni could not control her own Kadima party, while Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet security service, never succeeded during his promising foray into politics.
A second reason is Netanyahu’s political skills. No one can deny them. He’s the one who used dirty tactics to entice members from Kadima to ditch Livni. Dirty but effective, since Livni’s authority as leader was seriously fractured. Netanyahu can also take much of the credit for passing the law (mainly the work of former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz) calling for a cooling-off period for public figures prior to entering politics.
The law was originally designed to block former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, but in retrospect it spared Netanyahu a bitter struggle with Ashkenazi in 2011. Netanyahu can also chalk up the achievement of keeping Barak on board by offering him a tempting deal that he could not walk away from.
The third reason – and the main one – relates to egos. The leaders of the three centrist-leftist parties aren’t capable of overcoming their own egos. Livni, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) could not agree in 2012 on a common candidate for prime minister.
These parties still haven’t been able to unite, even after Yacimovich was replaced by Isaac Herzog, thus wiping out any seeming differences between them.
Lapid, Livni and Herzog should have understood a long time ago that they have no chance of becoming prime minister on their own. Their decision to continue trying is cynical and egotistical. The situation on this side of the political map is so pathetic that one almost yearns for the days of power-hungry politicians like Shimon Peres and Barak, both of whom were only too willing to sacrifice people and principles in order to attain power.
Their heirs don’t even have to try hard. The opportunity is so glaring that one needs to be megalomaniac to miss it. Current polls give them a combined 25 seats in any new Knesset, far less than the 40 they now hold. Nevertheless, if they announced that they were uniting behind a single candidate, it is reasonable to assume that this person would have more MKs behind him than Netanyahu does, according to current surveys. That alone would make this person a serious contender.
Netanyahu has no real advantage over such a joint candidate with the ultra-Orthodox camp, or even with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. The only question is, who would fill this role? It could be former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, who is patently unsuited for politics but has significant leadership potential. Following the success of Iron Dome, former Labor leader Amir Peretz looks different these days. It could even be Ashkenazi, assuming the criminal investigation against him is closed (and it will be).
There is no ideological justification for these three parties to abstain from putting forth a common candidate. If their leaders only rid themselves of their narcissistic delusions, they could end the tenure of this prime minister, who, in their own words, is causing so much damage.