Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem September 5, 2018..
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent much of the 1980s in the United States, he idolized then-US president Ronald Reagan, who was called “The Teflon President.”
Teflon is a nonstick coating for pans, and the Urban Dictionary defines a Teflon president as “a president who manages to remain popular and continues to get elected, despite scandal surrounding the administration or general dissatisfaction with government in general.”
When rockets don’t fall, Netanyahu’s popularity goes up because there is security. When rockets do fall, his popularity goes up because Israelis need their Mr. Security, and Netanyahu has persuaded Israelis that he – and only he – can keep them secure.
When the economy is going well, Netanyahu’s popularity goes up because there is prosperity. When he gets heckled because of socioeconomic problems in the periphery, his popularity will likely rise because Israelis believe he is the one who can fix it.
This week the focus was supposed to be on Jerusalem, due to the restart of the Knesset and the question of when an early election might be called.
Instead, the attention has been devoted to the North and South – to Kiryat Shmona, where Netanyahu was heckled when he inaugurated a medical center on Tuesday, and Beersheba, where a rocket badly damaged a house early Wednesday morning.
These are the areas that Netanyahu called “the former periphery” in both his Knesset address and his speech at the medical center. They are also the traditional stronghold of Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
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How the prime minister handles the challenges in Kiryat Shmona and Beersheba could end up deciding the next election, no matter when it is.
If Netanyahu can succeed in painting himself as the savior of the North and South, he can win by a landslide and send a message about his staying power to the attorney-general, state prosecution and Supreme Court.
But if he fails, socioeconomically minded politicians such as Orly Levy-Abecassis and Michael Biton (and maybe Moshe Kahlon, but definitely not Avi Gabbay) can nibble away at his support and leave Netanyahu vulnerable.
The security cabinet’s decisions about how to handle Beersheba will be tested immediately, and everyone will see the results, for better or for worse.
Netanyahu’s handling of Kiryat Shmona will be harder to evaluate.
He received horrible press in the Hebrew media for telling the political operative who heckled him that she is boring. Headlines in newspapers that were out of date before they reached doorsteps declared that Netanyahu had “lost the North” or just “lost it.”
The rocket that fell made people forget about Orna Peretz, who became a media darling the day before. Perhaps the escalation in the South prevented a political escalation against the prime minister that could have spiraled.
If the timing of the destruction of a family’s home can uncynically be called good luck, Netanyahu has it.
Or maybe it just proves that Netanyahu is the ultimate Teflon prime minister.
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