"The problem with free elections,” noted once Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, “is that you never know who is going to win.” The problem with Israeli elections, we can add, is that you never know who won.That certainly goes for this week’s election, which no one won and everyone lost. Yes, on the personal plane Bibi Netanyahu offset his balance with Benny Gantz, from 33:32 Knesset seats in Gantz’s favor to 36:33 in Bibi’s favor. Yet the bottom line is that Netanyahu failed to restore the 61-lawmaker majority he won in 2015 and lost in 2019.Having snatched one seat from Bennett, one from Liberman and one from Itamar Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu merely reshuffled the right-wing vote, and his overall score fell well short of his real aim, which was to reboot the political map. And considering that this was his third consecutive failure to crack this electoral wall, it is time he and his camp realize that the Netanyahu era has just entered its twilight.Losers were also Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman, having each lost electoral ground, and emerged from this contest in no position to succeed Netanyahu as leaders of the Right, the overarching aim that has driven their political gambles since 2019.At the other end of the spectrum, the losers emerged even more devastated, following the Labor-Meretz alliance’s shrinkage from 11 to seven seats.And this is, of course, besides Blue and White, whose retention of its 33 seats did little to temper its voters’ sense of debacle, as their candidate’s quest – the same political rebooting that was his rival’s dream – crashed exactly like Netanyahu’s.Where, then, did this pair fail, and where can things now proceed?BENNY GANTZ’S failure was, first of all, strategic.You don’t get elected on a purely personalized agenda like “just not him.” People want to hear not only what is wrong about your opponent, but what is right about you. And what is right about you has to be more than just “I am honest.” It needs to include what Gantz never shared with us: a program.Yitzhak Rabin defeated Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 because he unveiled a plan: to build highways and interchanges, to raise teachers’ and doctors’ salaries, and to make healthcare universal – all of which he indeed did. That is what gave him victory, even though he said nothing bad about his rival.After the strategic blindness came the man himself. It’s good for a candidate to be handsome, tall and charming, but at some point people want to hear you articulate ideas and share insights, about life in general and about their own lives in particular: jobs, taxation, public transport, tuition, daycare, hospitals, mortgages, you name it.Gantz never did that.This was not about the “stammering” that Netanyahu tried to glue to him so rudely; it was about the political originality and intellectual curiosity Gantz either hid from us or simply lacks; the kind of knowledge and drive that feed the kind of vision and inspiration he never displayed. And having failed to deploy his own ideas, Gantz used those of his shallow campaign managers. That is why he lost.Netanyahu’s problem was the inversion of all this.Yes, he had his own ideas, insights and experience. Yet he did nothing to dispel, and plenty to enhance, the impression that his main ideas were to besmirch and delegitimize Gantz and to undermine, outflank and overrule the judiciary that indicted him. Never mind that this is what his opponents felt – that goes without saying; this is what the swing vote thought, and that is why Netanyahu didn’t even dent it.That is why the prizefight that pitted a political wiz against a clueless novice still ended with the Golden Glover sweating, breathless and shorn of the knockout that his redemption demanded.Yes, Bibi’s punch is still there, even if increasingly aimed under the belt, but the rounds are multiplying, and the bell that rings between them suddenly sounds like a fire alarm, while his rival remains stubbornly on his feet; not because he is better, but because – as the obnoxious bell makes plain – Bibi’s time is up.NETANYAHU APPARENTLY plans to trick his way out of this crisis, too, which in fact he might manage, technically, if Liberman decides to back a narrow right-wing coalition without joining it, a choice that would befit his trademark political caprice.Yet that structure won’t stand. Every Knesset vote will be a saga of bargaining, scheming and blackmail, and news about border incidents will mix with revelations about the prime minister’s trial, while his schedule will mix international crises with appearances in court.It will be no way to run a railroad, and it won’t last. At some point, Netanyahu’s colleagues will figure that the only way to serve the country and restore its political sanity is to create a government with Blue and White.And that coalition of electoral losers will herald the post-Bibi era, the reaction to the era in which political civility, conversation and teamwork were elbowed by sound bites, bluster, self-worship, arrogance and habitual humiliation of rivals, colleagues and entire populations.A post-Bibi broad government may end up led by Gantz and Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Netanyahu’s likely successor.Gantz and Katz, incidentally, grew up in the same village – curiously called Kfar Ahim, or “Brothers’ Village” – and also attended high school at the nearby Yeshivat Or Etzion before both joining the Paratroop Brigade.They would bring none of Netanyahu’s worldliness, charisma and pizzazz, but would work well together, and – like the unassuming Levi Eshkol after entering David Ben-Gurion’s shoes – would jointly inspire an era of personal humility and national reconciliation; an era that, 27 years after Bibi succeeded Shamir, the Jewish state now begs.www.MiddleIsrael.netThe writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim) is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.