Israel Elections: Is this the third reign of King Bibi Netanyahu? - analysis

Those who trumpeted the “Fall of King Bibi” were premature. They underestimated the indefatigable nature of Benjamin Netanyahu.

 Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister has diminished in influence, but it isn't extinguished. (photo credit: AMIR LEVY)
Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister has diminished in influence, but it isn't extinguished.
(photo credit: AMIR LEVY)

He’s baaaack, or at least that’s how it appears at first glance.

If the exit polls are to be believed, and the coalition talks go as expected, the most likely person to be Israel’s next prime minister is Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who has already served in that job for 15 years and three months, first from 1996-1999, and then again from 2009-2021.

He will be the first Israeli politician to have served for three nonconcurrent terms.

He will also be the first prime minister dependent on the country’s most far-right-wing party to govern.

Those who declared in June 2021, when Naftali Bennett was sworn in as a prime minister, that the Netanyahu era was a thing of the past were mistaken. Those who trumpeted the “Fall of King Bibi” were premature.

 LIKE Netanyahu or not, it appears he will be the next prime minister of Israel, says the writer.  (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) LIKE Netanyahu or not, it appears he will be the next prime minister of Israel, says the writer. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

They underestimated the indefatigable nature of the man.

They underestimated the indefatigable nature of the man. Convinced that he was railroaded by the legal system, he has continued to fight on and on and on and protest his innocence time after time after time.

They overestimated the importance that the country attributed to the fact that Netanyahu is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu’s apparent victory despite the court cases against him shows the public’s lack of confidence in the judicial system.

Netanyahu was helped this time by the difficulties that emerged in the court case since the last time the country went to the polls in March 2021. In the ensuing year, severe problems with the way the state investigated and prosecuted the case emerged. What was once presented in the media as almost a slam dunk has in recent months appeared as anything but. That, too, moved some voters back to the Right.

And those who declared the end of the Netanyahu era underestimated the degree to which personal security – or a sense of personal security – motivates how people vote in this country. As was the case in 1988, in 1996 and in 2001, an uptick in terrorism near Election Day had its effect. The terrorism underscored a sense of insecurity for many that came out in votes for Likud and the Religious Zionist Party of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Israel has traveled a long way since the election of 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin defeated Yitzhak Shamir. During that election, Labor and Meretz, the two left-wing Zionist parties, won a combined 56 seats. Last night, they were projected to win nine to 10.

What happened in the intervening 30 years? The collapse of the Oslo Accords because of runaway terrorism and an inability by the Palestinians to compromise. The Second Intifada. The withdrawal from Gaza and its disastrous aftermath.

Tuesday’s election is just the latest reflection of the rightward lurch of the Israeli body politic, not because of a callousness of heart – as some detached from life in this country argue – but because of the harsh reality on the ground.

The rise of Ben-Gvir has its roots in this as well. Why did Ben-Gvir get 19,402 votes in 2020, yet hundreds of thousands last night? Because in two years so many more Israelis suddenly became racists? No. Because of the riots in the mixed cities during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021; because of lawlessness in the South; because of the terrorism; because of the fear hundreds of thousands of Israelis feel when they drive the roads in Judea and Samaria; because of a desire for someone to “get tough” and “make order.”

Tuesday night’s results will necessitate soul-searching in the anti-Bibi bloc. The term anti-Bibi bloc is preferable to saying the Center-Left bloc, because many in this bloc are as Right on diplomatic-security issues as Netanyahu himself.

Why did they fail? Why did their anti-Netanyahu message fail to convince half the country? Why are so many willing to vote for those whom they called “the forces of darkness,” rather than for those who see themselves as bathed in light?

Why? Because a majority of the country didn’t buy the apocryphal warning that a vote for Netanyahu and the Right would be a vote for an end of the judiciary, of reasonableness, of decency and of democracy itself. They heard Ram Ben Barak’s warning that the Nazis came to power through democratic means, and they cringed.

The current election cycle began in April 2019 – and back then, even more so than during the recent campaign – the issue was Netanyahu. At that time, the anti-Netanyahu bloc was fighting against a Netanyahu government that relied on the moderate Moshe Kahlon. Forty-four months and five elections later, what does it get: Netanyahu, but a Netanyahu government that will likely rely on Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

When the heads of the anti-Netanyahu bloc look in the mirror and consider what they have accomplished after 44 months and five elections, it’s tough to believe that any of them can honestly be able to say, “job well done.”

Because, after all, Netanyahu is still here, and they –at least from around the cabinet table and the government – look soon to be gone.