Binyamin Netanyahu, the election’s technical winner, is in fact its major
Yes, there are other losers. Shaul Mofaz, until several months ago
an aspiring prime minister, is now officially a has-been. Tzipi Livni pushed her
luck and was exposed as a political non-starter. Labor’s inability to emerge as
the second-largest party is also a failure. And on a smaller scale, Arye Deri
failed in his quest to bring Shas more mandates than his in-party rival, Eli
Still, all these failures pale compared to Netanyahu’s loss of
what initially counts as one-quarter of the combined votes that he and his ally,
Avigdor Liberman, garnered in the previous election.
The cause of this
flight is clear. Netanyahu ignored the Center. Ever since his speech endorsing a
two-state solution in 2009, he ingratiated his right flank and disregarded the
political mainstream, assuming rightly that Kadima was a passing phenomenon, and
wrongly that its voters would eventually fall in his lap.
At the same
time, Netanyahu never bothered intellectually dialoguing with his “natural”
partners in order to truly explore their minds. Had he done that, he would have
concluded that he had a lot less in common with the Likud’s Moshe Feiglin and
Bayit Yehudi’s Orit Struck than with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Rabbi Shai Piron.
Now Kadima is dead, but its message – that a
critical mass of Israelis want pragmatism on all fronts – is alive and
Netanyahu can therefore now be expected first of all to create an
axis with Lapid, and only then to add more partners to that
Lapid is clearly the election’s big winner, having stolen
Naftali Bennett’s thunder.
Talk of Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi emerging as the
secondlargest party proved unfounded.
In fact, with all due respect to
his accomplishments, it is no game-changer. Moreover, Bennett’s effort to
portray his party as suitable for a broad non-observant following has failed.
The 12 seats currently forecast for him are merely what the historic National
Religious Party used to win until 1977. Restoring that figure to the party’s
latest incarnation is a respectable feat that does not represent a new trend in
Lapid’s accomplishment, by contrast, shows that the
upper middle class, which constitutes his electoral backbone, remains solid,
just like it was in the days of his father, Tommy Lapid, who won only 15 seats,
and then in the days of Kadima. This electorate went to the polls with a purely
domestic agenda in mind, which overshadowed Bennett’s “Greater Israel” agenda on
the one hand, and Livni’s “peace in our time” message in the other.
Netanyahu has three choices: Ignore reality and stick to his historic allies in
the “national camp”; seek a coalition with Lapid, Bennett and Livni; or seek a
secular coalition with Lapid and Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich that will draft
legislation for political reform.
Netanyahu is not likely to immediately
seek the latter option. However, several days of negotiation with his plethora
of newly emboldened potential partners might make him change his
The writer is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman
Institute. www.middleisrael.com •