In professional sports, one of the biggest recent controversies surrounds teams that rebuild by “tanking”: purposely not trying very hard in order to get better draft picks and perform better years into the future.
In Israeli politics, there is no formal draft for future stars. But there are definitely parties that look ahead rather than at the present.
That has never been more true than with Tuesday’s election. Strategists in parties across the political spectrum admitted behind the scenes that with all due respect to the current race, they were actually already focusing on the next one.
Initial exit polls on Tuesday night indicated that Netanyahu’s bloc had won 61 seats together with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party, and thus would be able to form a government. But the final results could end up being different.
It does not matter if the fifth election will take place in October 2021 or in 2025. What does matter to the parties is that the three-decade political career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will eventually end, and that will change everything.
Let’s start with Bennett. While it initially looked like he would remain independent in the race, he instead chose to be careful not to leave the Right, even though it could have helped him win more seats in this election.
Sources close to Bennett said he had in mind building himself up for the next election in the post-Netanyahu era. For that, he could not be the one who prevents the formation of a right-wing government.
The Center-Left similarly looked to the future. Rather than wasting a potentially stronger candidate in a potentially unwinnable fight against Netanyahu, leading figures in the camp said the time had come to run Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and “finish him off” with a loss.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli has spoken openly about using this election to build herself up and rebuild Labor, in order to be ready for the next one.
But the best example was the ultimate potential game-changer for this election, Gadi Eizenkot. He saw what Netanyahu did to his fellow former IDF chief of staff, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, and preferred to sit this race out and await the post-Netanyahu era.
The Likud’s future leadership candidates, like Nir Barkat for instance, have also purposely been keeping a low profile.
The exception to the rule is New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar. Watching him collapse from 21 seats when the campaign began to five or six when challenging Netanyahu’s political powerhouse in this election proved to the strategists from other parties that they were better off sitting this race out.