As someone who hasn’t passed up a chance to level criticism at Bibi Netanyahu, his personality and his performance as a leader, this week I found myself betting that he would win the election. Here and there I picked up a few shekels, but it was rather a pittance compared to the fact that we also got Netanyahu for a fourth term in the deal, and who knows for how many years?
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Lord help me, I had no premonition that he would be elected to a fourth term as prime minister. I also never dreamed that Election Day would turn out to be another Judgment Day for pollsters whose exit polls turned out to be way off the mark, that people would go to sleep thinking that Bougie and Tzipi’s Zionist Union was neck-and-neck with Likud and wake up with Bibi as prime minister again. Another such victory would make him the longest serving prime minister in the country’s history. Ben-Gurion is probably turning in his grave.
What did Bibi know or expect when he moved up elections to March 17? He just had a sense that a tsunami was developing against him, that everything was caving in on him. There were defections from Likud to Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, to Habayit Hayehudi and, to a lesser extent, to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. No one looked into the breadth or depth of the vacillation of Likud members. No one noticed that when you do harm to a party and its reputation, it is seen as crossing red lines. When it comes down to it, Likudniks are loyal. Even if they are hungry, their hands tremble when they cast their vote to depose “the leader.”
Bibi combatted the phenomenon in two ways. On one hand, he appeared as someone pleading for his life and as a person who had uncovered a purported conspiracy to unseat him. On that pretext, Likudniks who had been burned were brought back to the fold. His image as some nebekh, an inept, pitiful person, helped him in bringing back and recruiting Likudniks, fanatical as they may be. Bibi was in a panic, the commentators said, as they enthused over the rehabilitation of the Labor Party.
“When the red phone rings, who do you want to answer it?” PR people in previous elections repeated, based on the famous slogan from Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. The attention paid in this just-ended campaign over Bougie Herzog’s less than impressive height and voice didn’t serve the new leadership of Zionist Union, the successor to the old Mapai party. Commentators who knew the candidates’ past well predicted that when the time came for Herzog and Livni to carry out their proposed rotation as prime minister, if Zionist Union got the electorate’s nod, the two would find themselves quarreling. That is also why at the very end of the campaign, Livni announced she was prepared to forgo the rotation. It apparently didn’t help, however, and those who had experienced such quarrels in the past in Mapai rather quickly lost confidence in this “new leadership.”
Bibi had a better read of the situation. He came to his senses at the last moment and appealed to that same segment of the people that opposes the Arabs and concessions and supports united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with continued settlement activity, etc. In one fell swoop of a speech, he retracted his 2009 commitment at Bar-Ilan University to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. And that was after his uncivil speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress that angered the Obama administration but delighted the Israeli extreme right.
If we believe Bibi’s declarations from before the election, we will continue to live in a regional bubble until everything blows up. We are not far from that. Bibi is leading us to a Neverland where we forget that we are part of a volatile and turbulent region. If he makes good on his declaration, Israel will find itself in a flash on a dangerous path in our relations with the United States. The Americans won’t abandon us but there will no longer be an automatic American veto at the United Nations; intelligence cooperation on the Iranian issue will be reduced; and our isolation in Europe will be complete.
Bibi will be the same prime minister, only worse, more belligerent and opposed to any kind of concessions for peace. This man has not changed. He’s the same person with the same capabilities. What he hasn’t done in his last three terms as prime minister won’t be done this time either. How much longer will Bibi’s electorate endure this battered woman syndrome and refuse to leave the scene of the crime?