Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exceeded even his wildest expectations, if the current results end up staying the same after the final votes of IDF soldiers and diplomats are counted Thursday.
Besides winning, Netanyahu forced his critics Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked out of the Knesset, weakened Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu and crushed the Feiglin phenomenon that could have shifted votes from the Right to a coalition that could have been formed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
His Likud gained five seats and the Center-Right maintained its 65 MKs, including a blocking majority of 61 MKs who say he can stay in office even if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit indicts him for bribery.
“The people of Israel had their say and gave Netanyahu their full confidence to continue to lead Israel to great achievements over the next four years,” a Likud source close to Netanyahu said Wednesday night. “We are going for a full term.”
That last line was intended to counter the messages coming from Blue and White that they expect Netanyahu to be forced out by Mandelblit within a year. Blue and White’s Yair Lapid also predicted on camera that the current government would be toppled within a year and it ended up lasting for four.
It is possible that the government could be unexpectedly stable, despite the indictments, because the Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu have all said they are not bothered by them.
Some kind of bill could even be passed to help Netanyahu evade prosecution. But the Supreme Court would likely overturn it.
Foreign press who flew in to cover the election said they do not understand why Israelis elected Netanyahu if he is facing such serious allegations.
The first answer is that both the security situation and the economy remain relatively unproblematic. The second is that Israelis value experience, and he has far more than anyone else.
The third is that in this challenging region, Israelis believe they need a leader with elbows, who is not afraid to use them – even if it means cutting corners a little bit, but not too much.
Netanyahu is a master politician, who knows how to ignore the media for four years when he does not need them and then saturate them the week before an election. In his many interviews, he succeeded in persuading Israelis that they have to keep him in office.
Mandelblit has made clear in closed conversations that he would not defend Netanyahu before the Supreme Court, if it is asked to force the prime minister to step down following an indictment. The law is unclear on the matter, and the judges could weigh in with a precedent-setting ruling against Netanyahu.
The court could end up bringing down Netanyahu and accomplishing what no politician was able to do in the election.