Predicting the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as Prime Minister of Israel is like predicting the coming of rain during a drought. You know it has to come sometime, but the question is when?
Never the less, it feels as if the rain is nearer now, but still maybe a little while away.
Netanyahu is the number one, two and three issue in the forthcoming election barring anything major from Iran or her proxies.
Should anything arise from that direction it will play into Netanyahu’s hands as his term in office has seen the least numbers of death from terrorism and war and the quietest period in Israel’s history. On this front, he is seen as a safe pair of hands. Something which is widely recognised and appreciated.
However, this stands in sharp contrast to the havoc wreaked by Covid.
Netanyahu’s dealing with Covid and the corruption charges against him are this election’s focus.
With the tragic number of well over 5,000 dead from Covid in Israel and the rapid rollout of the vaccine on the other hand, the question is whether Netanyahu will be blamed for the gross mismanagement, or praised for the cure.
Some things have changed in regards to the coming election.
We have seen the return to the fore of seasoned professional politicians and the demise of generals running for office.
The major players in determining the next government will be Lapid, Sa’ar, Bennett, Lieberman and the Haredim.
If as expected, Netanyahu’s Likud will be the largest party, it will be they who will have to decide whether to join him or oppose him.
If Lapid’s party does come in second as the polls predict, can they/will they unite with him or try and come up with another alternative?
The real battle for government will most likely start after the election itself, when coalition negotiations begin.
In further terms of change in this election, the Joint List (largely an amalgam of four Arab parties running together) has now broken into two with Ra’am running on its own and with a policy to get more benefits for Arab Israelis by working with Netanyahu and even offering him political support.
Arab Israelis today being concerned in particular about the rate of crime in their towns and like the rest of the population but more so, the devastating effects of Covid.
In the attempt to get a coalition of 61 Knesset members it may turn out that even small parties like the somewhat revived Labor Party under new leader Meirav Michaeli, or even Ra’am, will play a critical role.
The challenge for Ra’am will be to pass the threshold – and if they do, could there be another interesting political realignment in the offing?
But what we do know is that this time almost any party can join with any other party to be part of the next government – and nothing is too unimaginable if it will mean getting to the magical 61.
Here’s what Yair Golan, an anti-settlement leftist and leading member of the Meretz party said when asked if Meretz would consider joining the right-wing pro-settlement Sa’ar’s New Hope party in government, in order to oust Netanyahu.
“Unequivocally yes. The first thing to do is to eradicate corruption from among us. We will sit in any government that is able to restore the State of Israel to its basic human values.”
The Haredim are under particular stress with some 15% of the population but 30% of fatal and serious Covid case. They have numerous unique issues of crowding, poverty et al which means they have a greater reliance on the school and yeshiva system but there is no question that they face two large, possibly transformational, challenges:
- their battered image in the general population-based in mixed parts on both real failures to comply on the one hand and the general population’s lack of understanding of their internal pressures
- and possibly an even greater danger for them, the decreasing control their leadership exercises over their own youth.
Whereas in the past three elections the Haredim have provided Netanyahu with guaranteed political support and whilst they are still likely to join him in coalition building in the first instance, this is not automatic this time.
Moshe Gafni who leads one of the two Haredi parties says: “We’ll probably go with Netanyahu. If there’s no dramatic change we’ll probably recommend him.”
When he was asked about this change in political stance he said: “there’s a difference, in society, in life here, the difficult reality we are in.”
It is also worth noting that Sa’ar is close to the Haredim in the Knesset and has a longstanding practice of regular shiurim with a leading Haredi Rabbi.
The Haredim have two major political enemies – Lapid and Lieberman.
When asked if this time his party might consider joining Lapid in government Gafni said:“Who knows? We’ll see”
We will only know after the election itself and how the numbers fall – but there is a definite change in tone at the very least.
Sa’ar’s New Hope is largely putting itself forward as the ‘true Likud’, the ‘true followers of Jabotinsky’. To bolster this image, they have included Benny Begin (son of Menachem Begin), as well as the granddaughter of Yitzhak Shamir in their Knesset list.
Sa’ar has been the only really locked in and bold – or will it turn out to be foolish? – leader in declaring that he will not join any coalition that has Netanyahu as Prime Minister.
Most everyone else is ‘flexible’.
Although, Meirav Michaeli refused to join the current government under Netanyahu when her two Labor colleagues did, which may point to Labor now also refusing to join any potential Netanyahu coalition.
As an interesting aside, just as Netanyahu insider Ze’ev Elkin has finally given up on him and joined Sa’ar’s party, it seems that over in the USA Nikki Haley has similarly distanced herself from Trump and his post-election behaviour when she announced: “We need to acknowledge he let us down. He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
Both positioning themselves for respective future leadership runs?
In terms of future leaders whenever the post-Netanyahu era arrives, no-one who was close to him at different times over the years has been anointed. In fact, the greater the threat seen to Netanyahu’s leadership, the more any prospective leadership candidate was pushed away – and in the case of Lieberman, Bennett and Sa’ar – pushed into forming their own party and turning into Netanyahu’s fierce competitors.
The so-called Israeli right now dominates politics in real numbers as reflected by members of the Knesset – but they are at odds with each other in terms of personalities and the question of who should be the ultimate leader of their grouping.
Interestingly, the Israeli press often carries stories about Yossi Cohen, who has been the head of the Mossad since 2016. The 59-year-old Cohen is credited with numerous achievements including in regards to Iran and Covid.
Cohen was also critical of the IDF Chief of Staff’s very strong public position against any type of potential Iran deal – Cohen being more nuanced – and is apparently Netanyahu’s point man in dealing with the Americans on Iran.
Quite regularly, Netanyahu praises Cohen, including on his criticism of the IDF head and speculation is rife that Netanyahu may be considering Cohen as his eventual successor.
Ultimately the coming election result will also hinge in large part, on voter turnout, as voting in Israel is voluntary.
There are currently too many variables and much will depend on actual Knesset seats achieved by each party.
Any predications at this point in time are pointless – other than that one day it will indeed rain.
Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.