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Analysis: Why Likud collapsed
By GIL HOFFMAN
01/22/2013
It is true that having a real, tangible adversary in an election can be helpful. Unfortunately for Netanyahu, he became his own worst enemy.
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has a lot of confidants, and some of them are not afraid to be brutally honest, as long as you don’t identify them.

When one of them was asked what he would have done differently to prevent the Likud’s free-fall from 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset, he said: “I would have sent Netanyahu to Iceland for the duration of the campaign so he wouldn’t screw it up and lose 10 seats.”

Many fingers will be pointed in an attempt to assign blame for the Likud’s collapse: At American strategist Arthur Finkelstein, Israeli strategist Gil Samsonov, campaign chairman Gideon Sa’ar, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, etc.

But when it comes to running a campaign, the man in charge is the man at the top of the totem pole: Netanyahu himself. He was the one who decided to unite Likud with Yisrael Beytenu despite the likelihood that Liberman would be indicted; he determined how to spend the campaign’s bursting budget; and he chose when to attack political opponents and when to hold fire.

The results of the race, at least according to the exit polls, indicate that Netanyahu was wrong on all counts.

The deal with Liberman made sense at first.

Netanyahu, who had never won the most seats in the Knesset in any election, wanted to make sure he would this time.

After leading the combined Likud-Gesher-Tzomet list to two seats fewer than Labor in the 1996 race and one fewer than Kadima in 2009, Netanyahu did not want to give President Shimon Peres any excuse to appoint anyone else to form a coalition.

But had Netanyahu not made the deal, Yisrael Beytenu might have disintegrated following Liberman’s indictment.

The deal gave Yisrael Beytenu 15 slots that appeared realistic at the time and pushed down the slots reserved for Likud candidates from districts.

Those candidates for the party’s backbenches are the Likud’s backbone. They are the branch heads and political power-brokers who know how to bring out the voters, and once the Liberman deal was signed, their motivation was gone.

When it came to distributing the massive funds available to the Likud, Netanyahu bypassed the field and focused on television commercials no one watched, and on the Internet.

Facebook is a good way of reaching out to people while bypassing the antagonistic media, but Likudniks apparently still want candidates to reach out to them face to face.

Netanyahu’s attacks on Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett boomeranged, as did the Likud’s attacks on Bayit Yehudi’s list. The strange Hebrew equivalent of the phrase “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” is “those with butter on their heads shouldn’t go out in the sunshine.”

A look at the Likud Beytenu’s candidates who were considered on the cusp does not reveal any rock stars or anyone worth buttering up. Perhaps it would have been different had Bennie Begin gotten another 200 votes in the Likud primary and won the 32nd slot on the Likud Beytenu list, the last reserved for a serving Likud MK.

Without a prime-ministerial candidate on the Center- Left considered serious competition, Netanyahu pretended at times to be running against Peres, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Europe, US President Barack Obama, and finally that generic, hated foe, “international pressure.”

It is true that having a real, tangible adversary in an election can be helpful. Unfortunately for Netanyahu, he became his own worst enemy.•
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