Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is going down, and to understand why forget everything you’ve read — especially in the New York Times — and take in the following parable:
A guy is married to Hollywood’s sexiest hottie. Every male in the world is jealous. Every two years or so she appears in a new movie. They walk down the red carpet together. She looks awesome. The paparazzi take pictures and she steams up the screen. But at home, he gets nothing. Cold as ice. Nothing. He keeps hoping that one day the person he married and the person he sees on the big screen will morph into each other. But it doesn’t happen. And then, she has her hottest role ever. The whole world is lusting after her. She’s unbelievable. Right after the premiere, he goes straight to his lawyer and asks for a divorce.
That’s what’s going to happen in Israel’s elections on Tuesday — precisely because Bibi was so good in Congress. We can’t take it anymore. The gap between the speech and reality is too big. The Israeli public is finally going to ask for a divorce from Bibi. In the West, they say he shouldn’t have given the speech, or that he said nothing new in it. But here, in Israel, the bump in the polls didn’t happen — not because he wasn’t good, but because he was so, so good. It reminded all of us how good he is on screen and how different he is in reality.
Every few years, at election time, Bibi warns Israelis about the left. Then he’s elected and the man we see on TV is not the man who leads us. For example, now he’s warning us about Herzog and Livni, the leaders of the opposition. But until a few weeks ago Livni was a member of his cabinet. He also warns us about Yair Lapid who leads a center-left party and will probably be part of the coalition that defeats him. But until a few weeks ago, he too was a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet. Meaning, Bibi talks like a right-winger but governs like a left-winger. His warnings ring hollow because the people he is running against are the very people he governed with.
US President Obama would have us believe that Netanyahu is too far right. But in Israel the perception is quite different: Netanyahu talks center-right and leads center-left. In doing so, he never wins over the left and he has now finally alienated the right. He’s left with no one. At least, not enough to walk down the red carpet again.
Obama is going to get what he wants. He’ll show Bibi that if you play with the big boys in Washington, they’ll play with you in Jerusalem. America’s Democrats have poured millions into unseating Bibi and they are going to win…not because of the millions but because Bibi is never as hot as his speeches.
And yet, here’s the irony. The government that will be cobbled by the Israeli left will be less capable of compromise than Netanyahu, precisely because it’ll have the right-wing of the Israeli electorate to worry about. Yes, they’ll put new deals on the table, but these — as always — will be universally rejected by the Palestinians, pushing Israel into a confrontation. The upshot; instead of a tough talking right winger, the West will now get an Israeli Prime Minister who talks softer than Bibi, but carries a bigger stick. It’s a complicated reality — we vote right and the government leads left, we vote left and the government will lead right.
At the end of the day, the failure of the center-right and the upcoming failure of the center-left, along with the reality of Iran’s race to the bomb will turn the Israeli electorate radically right. Meaning, they’ll want someone who really matches his screen persona. As a result, the Israeli Prime Minister after Herzog will be Naftali Bennett, the present leader of the right-wing “Jewish home” party. In the post-Netanyahu era, Bennett will lead a new Likud that will be born from its inevitable merger with the Jewish home.
To summarize, here is my prediction: as a result of Bibi’s good speeches and bad leadership, and Herzog-Livini’s naive view of what’s possible with the Palestinians, it’ll be up to Bennett to lead Israel through the nuclear minefield that will be Obama’s ultimate legacy.