A victory for the Netanyahu paradigm 

Source: A victory for the Netanyahu paradigm – www.israelhayom.com

Israeli voters have embraced Netanyahu’s view that the territorial concessions and a peace process are not the key to making Israel stronger. Gantz’s loss proves that the Left cannot successfully obscure its views.

The people around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were well aware of the dire situation. Just after 4 p.m., after Netanyahu had gotten the impression that things were truly out of control, he took to Facebook and aired live videos showing his angst over people failing to vote, imploring them to go to the nearest voting booth.

The schedule he had for the remaining hours of Election Day was scrapped and instead, he became fully invested in energizing grassroots activists. It was as if Netanyahu was Shimon Peres in 1996.

Back then, in the afternoon hours of Election Day, Peres had come to the realization that despite being a shoo-in for another term according to the polls, something was not right. Something big.

Peres realized that his voters had simply decided to stay home and refused to heed the party headquarters’ pleas to go out and exercise their right to vote. Peres then decided to go to the party headquarters and started calling activists as if he were a low-level campaign official and his facial expression said it all: He was worried.

Netanyahu, unlike Peres, was not worried about losing because he knew he would still be able to form a coalition no matter what happened, but he was worried that Blue and White would get more seats than Likud and the media would simply launch an all-out assault against him to ensure that President Reuven Rivlin would have an excuse to give Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the first shot at forming a government and deny him a fifth term.

This was not unlike what Netanyahu felt in 2009. Back then, after Kadima had gotten one more seat than Likud,  he was convinced that then-President Shimon Peres would go out of his way to task the centrist party with forming a government. But Netanyahu pre-empted this by clandestinely forming a de facto coalition of 65 MKs, essentially forcing Peres’ hand.

In the midst of the nerve-wracking drama on Election Day, there was some relief when his old friend Rabbi David Nachshon called him.

“I am calling to inform you that you have nothing to worry about. The late Lubavitcher rebbe told you that you have nothing to worry about because God would always be on your side if you chose the right path even if all other MKs were against you.”

A large smile appeared on Netanyahu’s face and he replied, “Not only were 119 MKs against me but world leaders were against me until recently; I have withstood enormous and unprecedented pressure for the people of Israel.”

The rabbi retorted: “You will continue doing great things for the people of Israel; you have the rebbe’s promise: You will win today.”

The fundamental reason for Netanyahu’s victory this week, which is also the reason for his rivals’ failure, is purely ideological. Netanyahu is the first leader in several decades to position Israel as a force to be reckoned with on the diplomatic stage.

He has done this with unprecedented success and without holding peace talks with the Arabs over territory, a mirror image of the Left’s paradigm that peace talks are key to diplomatic stature.

The Left has long warned, even during Netanyahu’s years as prime minister, that Israel would become an international pariah if it refused to hold talks with the Arabs and that a “diplomatic tsunami” would hit us if we did not change course.

However, Netanyahu called the Left’s bluff. Not only has he shown that there was no point in handing over territory to the Arabs, but he has also managed to make himself a member of an elite club of leaders of major powers, alongside Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. He has done that over the course of 10 years without even once sitting down to hold peace talks with the Arabs.

Gantz tried to obscure his unpopular ideological views but he failed to convince a single person that he shared Netanyahu’s view that there was no point in holding negotiations with the Palestinians. He could not utter the phrase, “I will not evict a single settler.”

He also gave up on any traditional Jewish theme to his campaign. He may be slightly more traditional than Netanyahu in private, but while Netanyahu kept mentioning his love of Judaism and its followers, Gantz’s campaign advisers forgot to present voters with their candidate’s Jewish side in the few months he got national exposure.

This meant that Gantz’s campaign only appealed to one side of the political divide, a side that may have many seats but lacks a majority among the public. This election, like the one in 2015, proved that you cannot fake your way to victory, you cannot obscure your views and say there is no difference between Left and Right and just assume people accept this as gospel.

Gantz failed to provide even one good reason for why right-wing voters should abandon Netanyahu and park their vote with him. His main message, perhaps the only one he actually campaigned on, was that he was not plagued with corruption, unlike his rival (allegedly). However, Netanyahu knew how to communicate with his voters in a way that Gantz could not.

When Gantz pressed hard in the campaign to implicate Netanyahu in the so-called “submarine affair,” he failed to realize that he was stepping on a land mine. His was so eager to besmirch Netanyahu over his alleged role in that affair that he failed to realize that no one was listening to him except the voters he already had.

The other side was ignoring the noise he and others in Blue and White were making all across Israel in virtually every studio. Not only that; it appears that Gantz’s constant pounding only antagonized Netanyahu voters who were holding back their anger.

There was a feeling that law enforcement officials were clandestinely doing all they could to unseat politicians who were not falling into line with their agenda. This feeling was no longer just limited to people who believe in conspiracies, it had permeated most of the Right.

The investigations into Netanyahu only intensified that feeling of injustice and persecution to a degree that was never seen before. Voters, who took great offense from the attorney general’s inclination to indict Netanyahu, the ongoing allegations against Netanyahu regarding the submarine affair and the various other accusations on his finances, decided to express this sentiment at the ballot box.

In fact, this feeling has now permeated the Left as well. Attorney Danny Cohen has served in a host of positions in the Labor party, including as its chief legal counsel. In 1996, he voted for Peres, and voted for Labor in every election since. That is, until this Tuesday. For the first time in more than 20 years, he voted Likud.

“I have never been a Netanyahu fan,” he told Israel Hayom. “And even though I appreciate his work on the world stage, I didn’t vote for him because of this. I voted for him this time, despite the hard feeling, because I could no longer tolerate the fact that law enforcement agencies had simply gone off the rails in their quest against him. Someone must restrain them.”

A day after the election, Blue and White held a meeting at the bloc’s headquarters. The melancholy among the newly elected MKs was palpable.

They were asked to place their phones outside the room. After making a statement, Gantz asked everyone to speak from their heart, with comments on what they should do next. It was like an after-action report in the military.

Then Gantz and his co-chairman, Yair Lapid, talked with reporters outside. Each communicated a completely different, even contradicting, message.

Lapid shut the door on a unity government, vowing that Blue and White was going to serve in the opposition and would not creep its way into the cabinet but instead make Netanyahu’s life a living hell. Lapid is truly convinced that Netanyahu’s days as prime minister are numbered, perhaps six months at most, because of the potential indictment.

Gantz, who refused to hear what voters had to say a day earlier, was not as determined to serve on the opposition benches. He muttered a few words on the various scenarios that lay ahead but refused to commit himself to the opposition and to making Netanyahu’s life a living hell.

The fact that Gantz won 35 seats three months after just entering politics is very impressive, but this is meaningless if you cannot become prime minister. Only the final outcome matters.

Lapid wrongly assumed the largest party would get to form a government and Gantz followed along.

But this thesis was wrong on two levels: first, because it forced Gantz to campaign against other left-wing parties that would have been his natural coalition partners, while also undermining the possibility of striking a de facto alliance with Arab parties that would deny Netanyahu a governing majority; and second, because Gantz’s Blue and White failed to get more seats than Likud.

Gantz, deep down, probably wants to get the defense portfolio. Netanyahu will have to be loyal to his coalition partners on the Right but it would not be a stretch if Gantz eventually joined, along with 14 of his party members.

Netanyahu would be very happy to see Blue and White unravel into the three parties that formed it but will not actively try to trigger this. It will probably happen anyway because its members are not keen to spend their days in various Knesset committees as opposition MKs.

As far as Lapid is concerned, the bloc will stay intact and he will do his utmost to make sure there is a united opposition. Lapid will benefit regardless of what happens to Blue and White.

If everyone stays together, he would have a legitimate claim to the party’s leadership come the next election. If it disintegrates and Gantz joins the government with his loyalists, Lapid would automatically become the head of the opposition and the Left’s de facto challenger to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu wants stability and has already indicated that he would like to serve out his entire fifth term. The coalition agreements he will draft might include provisions that refer, explicitly or implicitly, to the scenario in which he stands on trial.

Netanyahu won’t have to seek special legislation to protect him, he could simply include a provision in the agreement that prohibits parties from leaving the coalition so long as Netanyahu can legally serve as prime minister (that is, until he had exhausted the appeals process).

The weakest link as far as he is concerned is Yisrael Beytenu. Party leader Avigdor Lieberman wants to exact revenge from Netanyahu, not just because of the circumstances that led to his departure from the Defense Ministry.

He wants revenge because of the reports that Netanyahu tried to keep him from entering the Knesset by courting Russian votes and spreading the rumor that he would not pass the electoral threshold. Lieberman went overseas a day after the election, as he has done before, leaving Netanyahu to his own devices.

Netanyahu needs Lieberman and he will likely be willing to pay the price for having him on board: the defense portfolio.

The real headache is getting Lieberman to stay on board once other coalition partners start pushing through measures to which he objects (chiefly among them, the haredi effort to modify the new conscription bill).

The next Knesset may be the one that finally passes legislation that clearly defines the powers of the executive and judicial branches in a way that gives the Knesset the final say on crucial matters.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon has already indicated that he would support such a measure. Such legislation would also defuse the tension on the haredi conscription bill. After all, the reason it was drafted in the first place was that the High Court forced the Knesset to do so.

If the bill no longer has to meet the standards set by the High Court, then it can accommodate both Lieberman and the haredim and be approved at a pace that is comfortable for all coalition partners.

One of the most colossal mistakes of this election was the decision taken by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who decided to leave the helm of Habayit Hayehudi and form the New Right. The big surprise is not their failure to get any Knesset seats but the fact that practically every poll had them crossing the electoral threshold in the first place.

It was never quite clear whom they were courting and what votes they could count on. Yes, there are many who admire Shaked and Bennett, but why did they have the impression they would deliver them Knesset seats?

The New Right lacked a voter based, unlike Habayit Hayehudi, which could count on national religious voters.

Those who are not religious could vote for Likud and Kahlon, leaving Bennett in the lurch. He failed to convince voters that he could, and should, be defense minister.

Shaked had a good track record as justice minister but she failed to convince right-wing voters that she was better than the Likud’s Yariv Levin or Habayit Hayehudi’s Bezalel Smotrich. It appears that voters choose their party based on whom they would like to see as prime minister, not according to their preferred justice minister.

Labor officials were shocked just how arrogant Chairman Avi Gabbay could be. In his concession speech on Tuesday night, after it became clear that he had led his party to an electoral catastrophe, he had many things to say but not once did he own his failure.

Gabbay is not about to tender his resignation or change course, despite party activists demanding he do so now, more than a year before the party deadline.

Labor’s charter gives leaders about a year to stay on the job if they fail to win an election but the election outcome was no failure – it was a total meltdown.

Under their plan, MK Amir Peretz would assume the leadership position as an interim chairman, as he is the oldest MK in the party.

Peretz has yet to decide whether he would take that role (if offered), and this may have to do with his emerging bid to become president in two years, when Rivlin’s term ends.

 

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