Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Election Day, March 17, 2015.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gained the nickname “King Bibi” in 2012, after he appeared on the cover of Time magazine with that headline on an article that said the premier had consolidated his political power with no successor in sight.
While Netanyahu’s royal status has had its ups and downs in the four years since, Sunday marked a high point for the prime minister; following his agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on a two-year budget for 2017-2018, “King Bibi” is poised to reign as elected prime minister until 2019 – and longer than Israel’s first premier, David Ben-Gurion.
Netanyahu is currently the second-longest serving prime minister of Israel after Ben-Gurion, who served 4,575 days, or about 12-and-a-half-years, and also was an unelected prime minister from May 1948 until February 1949 when the first Knesset was sworn in.
For Netanyahu to surpass Ben-Gurion, he must remain prime minister until September 23, 2018, according to Israel Democracy Institute Researcher Dr. Ofer Kenig, and the two-year budget means Netanyahu practically has the milestone in the bag.
The current Knesset’s term is supposed to last until November 5, 2019, which would allow Netanyahu to break the record, but in Israeli politics, the legal election date is meaningless since the vote always takes place earlier.
The current, narrow 61-seat coalition has invited predictions – most notably from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman – that it would not last the year, yet it has proven to be surprisingly stable because of the relative political homogeneity of its right-wing members.
Still, Netanyahu did not leave things up to chance, and put a two-year budget – a move for greater stability – into the coalition agreement the parties signed last year.
While a two-year budget doesn’t guarantee an election will be delayed until 2019, it makes it far more likely by taking away a major source of tension for all coalitions by eliminating one year’s round of budget votes.
The expectation that Netanyahu will stay in his seat for the next two-and-a-half years is likely to have a ripple effect in the political scene.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) was already negotiating his party’s joining of the coalition and a two-year budget is likely to motivate him to seal the deal.
If there’s a possible election on the horizon, Herzog would want to make sure he’s seen as the alternative to Netanyahu and not his minion, but if there are twoand- a-half years to spare, Herzog may as well get some ministerial achievements under his and other Labor MKs’ belts.
The Likud is expected to reshuffle jobs within its faction in the coming weeks, and the two-year budget may bring a stabilizing effect on that front as well – particularly in positions that were supposed to be rotated.
Currently, MK David Bitan is chairman of the Knesset House Committee, but the position is supposed to go to MK Yoav Kisch for years two and three of the current Knesset at the beginning of the Knesset summer session, and go back to Bitan in May 2018. Bitan was hesitant to step down, and a near-guarantee that he will get his job back could make him more cooperative.
Unfortunately for Netanyahu, the decisions he has to make on other positions that MKs are competing over – coalition chairman and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman to replace MK Tzachi Hanegbi, who is supposed to become a minister, though Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara is flexing his muscles and demanding a promotion, too – have not been made any easier by the two-year budget.
But no matter what challenge comes his way, King Bibi has something to smile about: Soon he’ll have bragging rights for besting Ben-Gurion.