Did Bibi fatigue turn into Bibi exhaustion? - analysis

What this country is grappling with – and the issue that does split the nation – is whether Netanyahu is good or bad for the state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks at his watch before delivering a statement at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks at his watch before delivering a statement at the Knesset, Israel's parliament,
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Here we go again.
After weeks of a nasty and ugly campaign, the nation went to the polls on Tuesday, and – again – failed to deliver failed to deliver a clear, unequivocal message. The hope that somehow this time it would be different, and that at 10 p.m. it would be clear who won, and who lost – that hope failed to materialize... again.
Once again the nation went to bed on Tuesday night not knowing for sure who would be in the driver’s seat – or which parties would certainly be in the coalition car – in the morning. Now the fun really starts, or as they say at the start of every Olympics: “Let the games begin.”
And these games are sure to be a harsh, ugly marathon that in the best scenario will end in mid-November, and in the worst case scenario – meaning the first candidate selected by the president fails to form a coalition, and another candidate is then given his shot – could go all the way until mid-December.
Check that. There is even a scenario worse than that: no one is able to form a government, and the country goes back to an election for a third time.
And what do these muffled results say about the nation? Are we ungovernable? Does the nation really have such a different vision of where it wants to go?
No, the results as reflected in the exit polls show that the nation is traveling in a specific direction, but it just can’t decide on whether the driver who has been there for 10 years – Benjamin Netanyahu – is a savior or a scoundrel.
Had Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union – the two Zionist left-wing parties – secured 56 seats, as Labor and Meretz did on the eve of the Oslo process in 1992, and the right-wing parties secured 56 seats as well, then one could argue that the country was split over how it wants to solve the Palestinian issue.
But that isn’t the case. Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union – two parties that it is safe to say would be in favor of widespread concessions to the Palestinians – received between 10 and 12 seats in the three television network exit polls, while the parties opposed to these types of moves – Likud, Yamina, and Yisrael Beytenu – received between 45 and 49 seats. So this is not an issue sharply dividing the nation.
Nor is it fair to say that the country is equally divided on the church-state issue, and that half want to see a more religious bent, and the other half a less religious one. The ultra-Orthodox parties garnered 16 to 17 seats in the exit polls, while Yisrael Beytenu, the Democratic Union, Blue and White and Labor-Gesher – all staunchly secular parties – between them received 52 to 53 seats. No, the country is not evenly split on this issue either.
Nor is the schism over whether the country should have a more socialist or capitalistic orientation, or what its relationship should be with the US and the rest of the world. On these issues there is a wide consensus.
What this country is grappling with – and the issue that does split the nation – is whether Netanyahu is good or bad for the state; whether 10 years of continuous rule is too much or not enough; and whether the legal allegations hanging over his head should disqualify him or not.
If the exit polls prove accurate – and that is a huge if – Netanyahu’s run of three straight election victories (four if you count 2009, when he was out-polled by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni but still went on to form the government) appeared to be coming to an end last night.
Tuesday night’s apparent results were more a vote of no confidence in Netanyahu rather than a resounding vote of confidence in Blue and White’s Benny Gantz: two campaigns in, and much of the country still does not have a sure feel of where Gantz stands on many of the key issues.
But for all those Blue and White voters out there, that didn’t matter much. They know one thing, and yesterday that appeared to be enough: he is not Netanyahu.
Amid all the acrid recriminations in the just completed campaign, Netanyahu ran on his record.
“Look what I’ve done,” he essentially told the voters. “Look where the country was when I took over – regarding security, our diplomatic status around the world, economically – and look where we are today. Do you want to want to change that now? Do you want Gantz and Lapid do deal will the country’s security problems, to go eyeball-to-eyeball with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, let alone the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ Yahya Sinwar?”
And the country’s apparent response: yes we do.
This was a referendum on Netanyahu – he was the issue of the campaign – and the exit polls show him in serious trouble. Judging from these polls, Blue and White co-head Yair Lapid’s oft-repeated campaign line that 10 years of consecutive Netanyahu is enough, resounded with enough people who – by voting against Netanyahu – sent a simple message: no one is indispensable.
The interesting question to ask is, what changed? What happened over the last five months that turned the tide? What happened that had Netanyahu go from a victory at the ballot box in April to the real possibility of defeat in September? Netanyahu was the central issue five months ago as well, yet he won that round. What happened this time?
What happened was just more of the same. More leaks from the investigations, more background noise involving his wife and son, more divisive rhetoric, more obvious political tricks, more blaming others. And all of that grew into a critical mass of people who seem simply to have said: enough is enough, we’re sick and tired of more of the same.
Things are still very fluid, and the actual results may once again turn the exit polls on their head. But if the real voting does indeed reflect the samples in the exit polls, “Bibi fatigue” in April morphed – because of over-exposure – into “Bibi exhaustion” in September.