As a freelance journalist living in the UK, I have ever been fascinated by the Israeli elections. It’s fair to say that nobody outside Israel (and probably few people living there) expected the last few months to turn out the way they did. So it seemed good to me to write a summary of events to explain how to me (a goy British journalist with a rudimentary understanding of Israeli politics) the situation looks now.
While the surprise move of Avigdor Liberman triggered the September elections they were essentially a battle of two Benjamins. Bibi verses Benny. Netanyahu to persuade the nation he must remain, and Gantz to persuade people that he and he alone could undo the damage he claimed Netanyahu had done to Israel’s moral society. Two days after the elections it’s clear to this writer that both Bibi and Benny have failed. While Liberman (again) has immerged the kingmaker.
The biggest failure of course is that of Bibi Netanyahu. He emerged in April with the best result Likud has had since Ariel Sharon was at the helm. While Sharon was able to capitalise on his largest Likud win, Netanyahu failed to do so. Sharon pulled out of Gaza, left Likud (for refusing to support him) and founded Kadima, Netanyahu was shocked to find he was unable to form a coalition and forced to announce Israel’s second election in under a year. Small wonder he blasted Liberman for “joining the left,” and focused his campaign on attempting to take his voters. This ploy has dismally failed and now Netanyahu finds himself with no majority. To me an outside observer it was clear how angry, shocked and desperate he was in the run up to this election that he never wanted. And his desperation on election day has deceived no one.
Is this the end of the Bibi era then? While many critics may gleefully rush to say it is, such observations are probably premature.
To write Bibi off has ever been a huge mistake on the part of his opponents. As Peres discovered in 1996, Bibi became Israel’s youngest prime minister. Mere months after being maligned as responsible for the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. And again in 2009 when the man the economist had once lampooned as “Israel’s serial Bungler,” became Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. Bibi has made incredible come backs before now and could do so again. But there is little doubt that in the battle of the Benjamin’s, Bibi has immerged from this election, as the most serious loser. .
So what of Benny? For a political newcomer he has done astonishingly well. Indeed when you consider that this time last year people outside of Israel (including this writer) spent ages surfing the web to find out who he was. But in the space of a year he has formed a political alliance that has dominated the centre ground booting labor to the fringes and to it’s worse result ever. Many thought his alliance would fall apart in April or sooner, but it stayed the course. What was blue and White then? To this writer it essentially looks like the generals plan to overthrow the former commando. (with apologies to Yair Lapid.) Not only are three former chiefs of staff included in the alliance but Orna Barbivai (who made headlines for joining the movement,) is Israel’s first female major general. It is unsurprising that Gantz, Yaalon and Ashkenazi combined to topple him, as it is well known that he has had a rocky relationship with all three. Indeed Netanyahu is said to have little patients with what his biographer Anshel Pfiffer has described as “the big and stupid IDF.” Netanyahu has Ever preferred the air strike, the commando raid and the war In The Shadows to the slow and ponderous tank divisions, corps command and the army ground incursion.
So why do I say that Benny has also failed? Because although his first election results are ones any politician in the UK can only dream of, he has no majority either. Benny’s aim was to persuade Israelis he was Netanyahu’s successor, and that his military record meant he too could be Mr security. Despite Netanyahu’s attempts to dismiss him as a weak and unstable leftist, he still rode high in the polls. in some commentary’s I’ve even seen his awkward, stumbling performance compared to that of Yitzhak Rabin. Maybe as a Rabin Mark 2? But when all is said and done, not enough Israelis were convinced that Benny was the worthy successor to Bibi, the man who’s kept Israel safe, and held the rains of so long it’s hard to remember anyone else at the wheel. Moreover if Bibi’s attempt to build a coalition looks complicated, Benny’s task will be no simpler. The Generals bid to overthrow the former commando hasn’t quite worked, but he is in a far better position than he was last election. Even if he does not become PM this time round, I’ve a feeling he will be a prominent figure in Israeli politics for years to come. So in some ways Benny has won, but in others he has also lost. Indeed only one man now holds the key to what happens next. Former right-hand and hatchet man to Bibi, and a man who sat in cabinet when Benny ran the army, Avigdor Lieberman. His resignation as defence last year was seen as a bad move at the time. And many commentators were describing him as a spent force after April. But now he is once again the king maker. Will it be Benny? Will Bibi claw back? Only time will tell.
There you have it, a summary from a goy, British journalist with extremely rudimentary knowledge of Israeli politics.