Read my lips: Prime Benjamin Netanyahu will lose the election and will not form the next government. Moving up the next election by more than two years was the mistake of his life.
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I believe he already recognizes this, and all the reports of his desperate efforts to form an alternative coalition at the last minute prove it. On the other hand, maybe it was not a mistake but was forced on him by his godfather, Sheldon Adelson, in the wake of efforts to outlaw the U.S. billionaire’s free Hebrew daily, Israel Hayom.
The only way Netanyahu won’t lose the election is if he loses the Likud primary first. That could happen if Gideon Sa’ar, who isn’t particularly brave and tends to panic under pressure, dares challenge him. In my opinion, even Gilad Erdan could win the primary at this point.
Netanyahu’s stock is at an all-time low, and he has nothing left to sell. He is seen as detached from socioeconomic problems. His scare campaign, over everything from Iran’s nuclear program to the Islamic State, is worn out. And his only remaining card, his “Mr. Security” positioning, was rendered worthless by the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge and the resurgence of lone-wolf terror attacks in Jerusalem and the territories.
The delusional press conference at which he announced called for early elections proved that his only platform is “governability” — that is, his strong desire to continue governing. But Israel no longer wants his rule.
The center-left needs to pray thrice daily this week that neither Sa’ar nor Erdan will challenge Netanyahu. After all, the real battle in this election is against the policies of Likud and the Jewish Brotherhood, not King Bibi; Netanyahu is simply the perfect candidate to beat. The defense and foreign policy views of the average Israeli have moved rightward in recent years, but the election will be focused on socioeconomic issues and revulsion for Netanyahu and his imperial court.
If Netanyahu remains the head of Likud, it is possible that Habayit Hayehudi will become the largest right-wing party. Its chairman, Naftali Bennett, is very popular in Israel’s Tea Party, especially among first-time, hormone-driven voters.
This is regrettable in itself, but in practical terms it’s great news for the center-left. Bennett will in any case take most of his new Knesset seats from Likud, and is still viewed as more extreme than that party. Contrary to initial fears, he’ll never be able to form a coalition. Habayit Hayehudi dreams of annexing the West Bank’s Area C (territory under exclusive Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords), controlling the Justice Ministry and putting Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, the Lord of Hosts’ anointed one, high up on its Knesset slate. These aren’t yet the dreams of mainstream Israelis.
Netanyahu will lose because the rising revulsion from him crosses party lines and overflows its banks. Mark Twain once said that history never repeats itself, but it rhymes. And indeed, 2015 rhymes with 1999.
The personal hatred of Netanyahu, the feeling of “anyone but Bibi,” is of course the most prominent element of this resemblance. Just as in 1999, it isn’t only Israeli citizens and politicians, but also the international community and the elites — economic, defense, legal and media — that have despaired of him.
But hatred of Netanyahu isn’t the only similarity. Here are two more: a combined bloc based on the Labor Party and the chance of a higher Arab voter turnout — then because of direct elections for the prime minister, encouraged by Ehud Barak’s promise to be “prime minister of everyone,” and now because of the possibility of a united Arab slate.
According to the latest polls, Netanyahu could theoretically form a rightist/ultra-Orthodox government with the aid of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Moshe Kahlon’s new party. But I believe this is an unlikely result.
And so, Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog will form the next government, as the head of a joint bloc based on Labor and including Hatnuah and the remnants of Kadima. Labor’s Knesset slate will include several new stars who will do well in the primary, which will quickly be opened to new members. A beehive whose top ranks will include MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Amir Peretz, plus a new star or two, will create a sense a momentum and be sufficiently attractive to turn Herzog into the head of the biggest party in the 20th Knesset.
But this joint ticket must not stop at “anyone but Bibi,” although this will be the clear subtext. It must have a positive message along with the negative, with the simplest of messages: hope. That should also be the new slate’s name, “Hatikva,” referencing the national anthem while offering a new vision, an alternative to despair.
Hatikva will form a centrist coalition with the party headed by Kahlon, who will be named finance minister. Lieberman, a sly political animal who, like Kahlon, has already begun to make a hard left turn, toward the political center, will be defense minister. The coalition will also include Yesh Atid, which will have shrunk to its natural dimensions, and the Haredi parties, since Yesh Atid will no longer have the clout to bar them. And in the best-case scenario, a way will be found to include Meretz.
If it wants to stop marching in place and to launch diplomatic and social initiatives, this government could have the support, from within the opposition, of the united Arab list. This government’s greatest achievement will be its very establishment, which will pushing the Likud Tea Party and the Jewish Brotherhood into the opposition.
This Tea Party of the settler right reflects the views of many Israelis, who must be suitably represented in the Knesset. But if we want to try to save the country from falling into the abyss of history, they must remain outside the government.