A few days ago, I went out on a limb as to the outcome of the these elections and even the ones after. Basically, while most analysts figured that Netanyahu would lose the election because he had gone down a right-wing, dead-end political alley, I figured he would lose the election because he never delivered the right-wing policy he had previously campaigned on. He talked centre-right and he governed centre-left e.g., agreeing to a Palestinian state, not going for total victory in Gaza, and bringing Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid (both centre-left) into his previous coalition. I predicted that Herzog would cobble together a centre-left coalition but would govern to the right of Bibi. Eventually, this would lead the Israeli public to vote for an authentic right-winger such as Neftali Bennett. I said all this by way of a parable: a man is married to a Hollywood hottie, she’s hot on the screen but cold at home. After 6 years, he can’t take it anymore. After her hottest role ever, he goes straight to his lawyer asking for a divorce. The gap between the woman on the screen and his partner at home is too big. I said that the Israeli public is tired of listening to Bibi’s amazing speeches and then watching him betray his platform the day after each election.
But there was one scenario in the hottie parable that I didn’t share with my readers – the “hottie gambit.” According to one version of the parable, when the Hollywood hottie hears that her husband is about to leave her, she jumps into a limo, drives desperately to the lawyer’s office, kicks the lawyer out of his room and then delivers the heat that until now was reserved for the screen. The happy husband forgets all about the divorce. That’s basically what happened in the Israeli elections.
Netanyahu played the hottie gambit. He understood that the public hadn’t “lost hope” because he had veered too far right. He understood that the left-wing will never vote for him and the right-wing felt betrayed. He literally ran around from voting booth to voting booth promising that he’d change. He took back his University of Bar Ilan speech, where he embraced the idea of a Palestinian state 15 km from Tel Aviv. He promised no coalition with the left. He panicked voters by telling them that American funds were being used to get out the Arab vote. He said that Herzog would have no choice but to build a coalition with the new united anti-Zionist Arab party. In sum, instead of waiting for Bennett to win the next election, Bibi morphed into Bennett.
My kids are convinced that Bibi read my blog and decided – in the last 48 hours – to abandon his campaign strategy and play the hottie gambit. By doing so, he redirected 4 seats from Bennett, another 4 seats from Lieberman and probably a couple of seats from Eli Yishai. It was brilliant: he fretted, he cried, he incited and he pulled the rug from under those to the right of him. For Bennett, all that is left is to see the limitations of his “Jewish Home Party” and prepare for the day that Bibi is gone and he can take over the Likud. For Bibi, all that is left is to deliver what he promised. Now that he doesn’t owe Obama anything, maybe Bibi can be as good as his speeches. Maybe, like the hottie on the screen, he can now take care of the business at home.