Mr. Netanyahu therefore seems to be in a much tougher position than he seemed to be in the aftermath of Monday’s elections.
Lieberman’s ultimate goal is to topple Netanyahu.
I was personally under the impression that the Soviet-born leader – who once worked as a bouncer in his younger days – would play the kingmaker for Netanyahu (who is short of 3 seats to form a government), but it appears that “Lieberman’s ultimate goal is to topple Netanyahu”, confided a well-informed source close to Israel’s political circles.
From now on, the two options are either the formation of a national unity government, with a rotation in the Prime Minister’s chair, a scenario that seems to be ruled out by the leader of the Likud, or new elections, which would be the fourth round within a year. With both blocs (Netanyahu’s and the opposition led by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party) pretty unmovable in their positions, it would be foolish to discard the latter option, according to the same source.
Netanyahu is a fighter and probably the smartest guy in the world.
But don’t count Netanyahu out yet. “He’s a fighter and probably the smartest guy in the world”, declares my source.
Today’s events are a turning point in Israeli politics and Monday night’s foregone conclusion that PM Netanyahu’s victory would permit him to stay in office appears more elusive as every hour goes by.
In light of yesterday’s historic elections in Israel and the resounding victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a fourth consecutive term (his fifth) at the helm of the government, I find it pertinent to post here the content of an op-ed I have penned, 14 years ago this month, about this legendary statesman. Many people were then very skeptical about my prediction. But history and the leader of the Likud have proven me right.
Netanyahu is not finished by Marc Nadeau
(originally published in the Record (Sherbrooke), Friday. March 31st, 2006, p. 7)
Conventional wisdom suggests that Benjamin Netanyahu was the great loser of this week’s election in Israel. Finishing fifth, the Likud Party he has led since Ariel Sharon departed to create Kadima sustained its worst defeat since its creation in 1973.
Even before voters went to the polls, pundits and observers predicted that Netanyahu would be challenged for the leadership of his own party.
The Likud finished not only behind the ruling Kadima and the Labor Party, but was also eclipsed by the Shas, a party popular among Orthodox Jews and Beiteinu, an outfit that draws most of its support from Russian-born immigrants.
Consequently, some say that the traditional voice of conservatism in Israeli public life may has lost its pertinence. For many reasons, it’s far too soon to conclude that.
If he decides to stay on, the man who led his country as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 is not finished.
In the past, Netanyahu has shown a legendary resilience. He not only came back from oblivion after his defeat in 1999, becoming minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance, but when Sharon left the Likud last November, it fell to him to pick up the shattered pieces of a party that lost an important number of members.
The result of this week’s election was not a personal defeat, but rather a testimony that Israeli politics have dramatically changed in the past few months. Thus, he should not shoulder the exclusive blame for Tuesday’s electoral outcome.
Analyzing the results further, one can also note that the Likud’s agenda did not spur popular passion this time.
About security issues – Netanyahu’s forte – the former Prime Minister was hardly a match for another leader – new Prime Minister Edud Olmert – who promoted the exchange of territory for peace. The withdrawal plan for the West Bank comes when many are tired with the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.
From now on the new Prime Minister will have to deliver on this plan. The road may bring numerous pitfalls.
First, Olmert is ready to unilaterally implement a plan which would give a group that promotes terrorism and refuses to recognize the existence of Israel – Hamas – the opportunity to govern a new Palestinian state.
Second, Israelis have not directly encountered terrorism for some time. But if a resurgence of violence was to directly affect Israel again in the future, the Prime Minister may find it difficult to promote concessions toward Israel’s tormentors.
Such a context, along with the failure of the upcoming government in its general policies may well pave the way for a Netanyahu comeback.
Last but not least, contemporary Israel history teaches its observers that it is sometimes premature to write up a political obituary.
Following his 1977 retirement from politics, who could have predicted that Itzhak Rabin would orchestrate the victory of the Labor party in 1992? In the aftermath of the controversy of his involvement in the Lebanese war, Sharon’s career seemed to have come to an end. He came back and left his imprint of Israeli politics, notably by becoming Prime Minister in 2001.
These are two eloquent illustrations that public figures may have a long life in the land of the prophets. After all wasn’t it Menachem Begin – another famous figure from the Likud – who was asked to form a government after 29 years in the opposition?
In politics, anything can happen. Netanyahu could decide to retire and attend to other challenges. He may alternatively be defeated in his bid to retain the leadership of his party. But if he decides to stay in the arena, he still has many good cards in his hand.
It may thus be too soon to confine him to the pages of history. Already, Netanyahu “shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”, to borrow an expression from former US President Theodore Roosevelt.
In May 2007, I had the privilege of meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then leader of the opposition in the Knesset.
During the conversation, I mentioned to the soon-to-be longest serving Prime Minister of Israel that I had recently penned an op-ed comparing him with his hero Winston Churchill and predicting his return to power eventually.
“Keep that article preciously, because I will indeed come back and I will prove you right”, he said with his legendary deep voice.
2 years later he was back at the helm of the country.
Three days ago, on April 9th, “Bibi” contradicted those who were already drafting his political necrology by winning a fifth term.
I was personally not surprised at all with this result and, in all honesty, I was happy with the outcome because I always admired the statesman who is now called “King Bibi” by many commentators.
I followed every campaign led by Benjamin Netanyahu (since 1996) with tremendous interest and the last one was no exception. And the best companion during the last couple of weeks was the excellent biography Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu by Anshel Pfeffer.
Through this real page-turner, Pfeffer offers the key to understand Netanyahu.
In a nutshell, the leader of the Likud comes from a family of political outsider, people who were outsiders not only in the Revisionist family (you can call them the conservatives), but also in Israeli political life in general. Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest achievement was to have “[…] transformed his father’s ideology into political capital.”
Throughout the years, the young Netanyahu spared no effort to master the art of public relations, networking and political maneuvering to reach the top of the greasy pole. And the ride was everything but smooth, if only because he had to confront and vanquish those we call “the princes” – the sons of the Herut-Likud establishment, of which Netanyahu was never a part. Their importance on the political chessboard was such that Anshel Pfeffer refers to them frequently in his book. But that does not change that fact that, even if Ehud Olmert, Dan Meridor, Ronny Milo, Benny Begin and even Tzipi Livni were all once key figures in Israeli politics, they’re now a footnote in history. Netanyahu outsmarted them all and his name can still be read in the headlines.
Right from the start, Bibi learnt to swim against the current and how to rebel against authority. From his “defiant opposition” to his father – with whom he had a particular relationship and who was against his decision to do his military service – to being yelled at on the phone by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and navigating in the cut-throat and unpredictable environment of the Likud, where today’s friend is tomorrow’s nemesis, Netanyahu conquered the iron throne of Israeli politics and cut himself a place as a dominant figure on the world’s scene, from the Halls of the Kremlin to the Oval Office passing by an official visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
I’m realistic enough to know that Bibi’s reign will come to an end one day – even though I will be among those who will be sorry to see him go. No one, after all, is immortal. But if one has to learn only one lesson from last Tuesday’s election, it is that “King Bibi” does not intend to let any prince touch his crown.
Long after the famous HBO legendary series will have ended, the game of thrones of Israeli politics will continue. It will be fascinating to observe and I’m sure we’re in for many surprises.
Anshel Pfeffer, Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu, Toronto, Signal, 2018,432 pages.
“Even though its influence tends to diminish, the army still occupies a central role in Israeli society. To better understand its importance, we must reiterate that more than 10% of the Jewish population either serves in the army or regularly serves in the army reserves, which makes Israel the most militarized country in the Middle East. (my translation)” (p. 8).
For that reason, many important military figures also played a dominant role in public life. The names of Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon are the better known in that category and easily come to mind in any discussion on that topic. All in all, few other countries can count on so many military figures in key civil leadership positions.
Which inevitably brings us to politics. Commenting on the results of the recent legislative elections for the Israeli left, Arik Henig perceptively wrote: “Since the 1977 political upheaval, Labor won the elections only twice, when it was headed by two former IDF chiefs of staff: Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 and Ehud Barak in 1999. […] When will [the people of the Labor party] they learn that the Israeli public prefers to be led by chiefs of staff?”
In other words, the Israel left needs a former IDF chief of staff if it wants to expect to return to success on the electoral battlefield.
Many will be tempted to perceive this observation as military fetishism. But it’s not the case. In a post-election analysis, Daniel Kurtzer, an academic who served as US Ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, summarized the three challenges that must be met by the Labor party, if it wants to leave the opposition benches in the near future:
“First, it must persuade Israeli voters, especially those of Russian origin, that it can handle Israel’s security challenges at least as well as, if not better than, the right. (Former military intelligence director Amos Yadlin was recruited by Herzog’s party to be its security face, but his voice was almost inaudible during the campaign.) Second, the left must induce the Sephardim to put past grievances behind and to vote with their pocketbooks. And, third, it must overcome the perception that support for peace with the Palestinians is akin to appeasement and therefore endangers Israel.”
The Prime ministership of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will not last forever and the opposition will inevitably become tired enough with loosing elections that they will decide to introduce a new figure whose presence, values and positions will fill the gap between the expectations of Israelis and the Labor party.
Much like Catholics like to observe various Cardinals to try to find out who might become the next Pope, anybody who’s minimally interested in Israeli politics and its future would be well-advised to keep an eye in the ranks of former IDF chiefs of staff to spot who might trade the image of the olive green military outfit general for the statesman persona.
Tsahal has always been an integral part of Israel’s history. And it will continue to play a determinant role in its future.