With silence, indifference and resignation, the State of Israel finds itself today in its third election campaign in less than a year. The masses haven’t taken to the streets, roads haven’t been blocked, and no tire has been set on fire. Five more months (at least) of continued paralysis and grave damage to the economy, the country’s weaker communities and the ailing health-care and social-welfare systems, are being accepted with equanimity. It’s as if we’re talking about a decree of fate or an act of God.
The phrase, “There won’t be a third election” has been repeated incessantly by politicians, not just during the past 85 days but even before the second election, in September, which was also perceived as insane. But all the basic assumptions that were supposed to prevent that collapsed one after another.
The right-wing bloc survived; there was no revolt in Likud; Avigdor Lieberman kept his word and didn’t join either side, despite the far-reaching promises he got; ditto Amir Peretz, notwithstanding fantastic offers thrown his way like confetti; Benny Gantz figured out all the stunts of the experienced trickster, and though he almost was tempted to go into partnership with the incumbent prime minister, preferred to preserve the unity of Kahol Lavan; and what was supposed to be a political death blow to the prime minister – being charged with bribery – didn’t put off a single coalition member.
This suicidal spiral that has gripped Israel’s political world in the past year stems from one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The coming election campaign, like the ones before it, in April and September, is the result of his ongoing attempt to evade a trial that may very well land him in prison. So his motive is clear. What has long since crossed the lines of absurdity and logic is the obsequiousness of the other 54 members of Likud and its partner parties who continue to huddle around him and accept all his caprices.
What spell has he cast over them? What magical influence does he wield? What primal fear does he instill in them? In private conversations, all of them, without exception, admit that Netanyahu is already “in the waning hours of the waning hours,” well past the beginning of the end, deep into twilight. But with eyes wide shut, as if moonstruck, they have followed him into this unnecessary, expensive and contemptible adventure.
Again we’ll start the countdown: 81, 80, 79. Since last December, this country has been counting itself down into oblivion, calculating its end of days in reverse. Its elected representatives are choosing to commit hara-kiri as the emissaries of one person and on his behalf, as though he were still “King Bibi,” as Time magazine labeled him back in 2012.
But he no longer is. He’s weak and more vulnerable than ever before. His escape routes have all been blocked. For years we have been accustomed to victory being his default. When Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni won 24 seats in 2015 at the head of Zionist Union, the left exulted. But Netanyahu and Likud won 30 seats. Checkmate. It was the same in 2013 and in 2009.
– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 52
Killing Palestinians isn’t Israel’s goal. Killing Palestine is. Listen
Now, after two consecutive campaigns, he is no longer undefeated. In September, the bloc he leads was badly battered. Gantz and his colleagues in the so-called cockpit of Kahol Lavan are teaching the premier a lesson. They are displaying resilience, they are not straying from their path, and they have a future (as the Hebrew names of Kahol Lavan’s partner parties suggest). They are not going away, they are going forward. Netanyahu has a strong base and a low glass ceiling. Gantz’s base is brittle but his glass ceiling is high.
During the campaign for the April election, Likud sunk as low as possible. They portrayed the former Chief of Staff – who during his years of working alongside Netanyahu received only praise – as mentally ill, delusional, a bumbling fool who is "incapable of securing his phone," and other ugly blows, all well below the belt.
What lies will they make up about him now, when Netanyahu and his ministers have been trying for two months to convince him to join them, share the power and even, if you believe them, serve as prime minister with their support?
The wooing of Gantz, and his training in the ways of the right-wing (as if he needs it), work in both directions. For example, A religious party leader like Arye Dery, who signed on to Netanyahu's 55-seat right-wing bloc, has been heard lately saying "Benny is an excellent guy," and that in the upcoming election, "we won't rule him out." Dery's spokesperson was quick to clarify that this doesn't mean that Shas will join a narrow government led by Kahol Lavan. But perhaps we should pay attention to the music and not just the lyrics. Naftali Bennett too, after quite a few conversations with Gantz, has only good things to say about the "guy."