In 1956 Rod Serling, famous for his TV show, the Twilight Zone, wrote a script for a television story of a washed up boxer who had fought too many fights. The boxer played by Jack Palance on the small screen grew into a movie with Anthony Quinn playing Mountain Rivera beaten bloody who would be blinded according to the doctor if he continued to fight. His Manager, Maish, played by Jackie Gleason, had convinced people he owed money that the Mountain would fall early and thus the results threatened both his own safety and ultimately his very life. What would happen to the Mountain in the aftermath of losing to an up incoming fighter who happened to be played by a young Mohammed Ali?
It is clear in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election in Israel that even though Netanyahu has gone the equivalent of 111 rounds in the heavyweight ring he still has a number of battles remaining. He seized an election that the pundits said he couldn’t by pushing every button he could to force people to look Israel squarely in the eye and vote for security one more time over all the other issues whether cost of living or the prospect of peace in deference to the sad realities of living in a fishbowl surrounded by conflict.
The deck was stacked. The big fellah had fought too many fights, made too many enemies, taken on the leader of the free word and gone too many rounds against him. He fired his most outspoken critic on the right, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon during the War last summer against Hamas and then critics from the center; Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, and the left; Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, on December, 2, 2014 bringing down his own government.
He was accused of crying wolf too many times regarding his stating the imminent threat of Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb all the way back to 1992. He was accused of playing politics in accepting an invitation from Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner to come to Washington DC before his own election and speak to a joint session of Congress without the knowledge or approval of the White House. He went, he spoke and he changed the arithmetic regarding the evaluation of Democrats and Republicans alike on what will constitute a good deal with the Iranians. And he did it in spite of a virtual insurrection by the White House against The Speech and against partisan infringement by a foreign leader on the power of an American President to conduct foreign policy. It didn’t improve relations between the President and the Prime Minister.
In Israel both sides utilized political consultants with the new Zionist Union benefiting from a smart, (but clearly not smart enough), campaign of ‘Anyone but Bibi,’ led by former Obama campaign executive Jeffrey Bird and a Victory 2015 staff that grew out of the pro-peace One Voice NGO and the American political consulting mega-group 270 Strategies who is largely made up of Obama campaign alumni. http://270strategies.com/
The polls clocked a close race that forecast trouble for both the Labor led challenger and Likud in creating the next coalition government. On Friday the last poll showed a solid lead of four seats for the Zionist Union and the prospect of the new Arab Joint List taking third place in the race for the 20th Knesset. I’m a little removed, say 5000 miles from the internal polling and political decision-making that encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to engage in a last minute public cry for support for his struggling Likud Party over the weekend and into Tuesday morning. Assuming his internals were a little more promising and he still needed a lot of votes from the right to not only get even but outright win the election he played hard and fast and gave up any question of his actual pursuit of peace with the Palestinians as well as his consideration for the 1.6 million Arab Israeli citizens who could vote in the election on March 17th. As a result he stood the final poll on its head, confounded the pundits and what still looked close at 10PM when the polls closed became a 30 to 24 seat blowout by Likud the next morning when all the votes had been counted.
It is unlikely that the once and future Prime Minister will have an easy time forging the next Israeli government. He has the opportunity to take no prisoners and realize the dreams of the far right in his own Likud Party and the even farther right of those he overcame in the voting booths. He can represent a Wall against an American President who has been merciless in his own pursuit of peace even at the expense of Israel. He can possibly even dash the P5 + 1 deal-in-the-making with Iran which he believes gives away the right sooner or later for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon. Or he can try to build the bridges to the future that will be increasingly necessary as time goes on for Israel’s survival. It may be harder for this Prime Minister to work from the right toward the center in the aftermath of his high wire act of political brinksmanship. But that remains the ultimate challenge for this worn and weary leader who is still standing on both feat in the center of the ring looking forward at this next contest and his responsibility to all the people of Israel not only to defend them but to help them realize a brighter future together.