Benjamin Netanyahu: The outgoing king?

#3: Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
However all the current political machinations eventually sort themselves out, the Hebrew Year 5779 will be remembered as the beginning of the end of the Bibi era.
It was the year when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aura of invincibility was pierced and punctured, and when the man who dominated Israeli life for so long was being ushered, against his will, off stage.
From this year onward, Netanyahu’s tremendous influence not only on Israeli affairs, but also those of the world, will wane.
Even if he somehow manages to retain power – something, considering his political skill, is not beyond the realm of the possible – he will have been weakened. People will sense that his political end is near, and that scent will be picked up inside his own party, among his political opponents, and in the world as well – something that will inevitably impact on his ability to influence affairs to the degree he has up until now.
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This dynamic was on display even before the September election, when US President Donald Trump, who backed Netanyahu to the hilt during the April election campaign, did not give him the same bear hug the second time around – perhaps hedging his bets that Netanyahu’s days as “King of Israel” might be numbered.
Netanyahu has loomed gigantically over Israel for the past decade and, with all his shortcomings and imperfections, has brought the country to another level: economically, militarily and diplomatically. His impact and influence on Israel rivals that of David Ben-Gurion, whose record for longest term in office he surpassed in July.
But whereas Ben-Gurion resigned suddenly in 1963 (though he returned to the Knesset until leaving completely in 1970), Netanyahu has never shown any sign of a readiness to give up the reins of power.
In fact, just days before the September 17 election, which he lost to Blue and White, Netanyahu was asked in an Army Radio interview whether, if he won another term in the upcoming elections, that would be his last.
Tellingly, Netanyahu made no commitment, leaving the impression that he really hoped – and even expected – to carry on for at least another decade.
Why? Why has Netanyahu proven so stubbornly unwilling to leave his position – after so many years and, yes, so many achievements – and retire to Caesarea to write his memoirs?
Cynics will say that it is because of a fear that the minute he leaves the Prime Minister’s Office, his next stop will be jail. But put the cynicism aside for a minute, especially since that is by no means a certainty, and consider another explanation.
After 10 consecutive years in office, and more than 13½ years when his first term from 1996-1999 is included, Netanyahu has come to believe that there is nobody who can do it better.
He genuinely believes that no other Israeli leader could have grown the economy so effectively, stood eye to eye with Barack Obama, outmaneuvered the Iranians, not caved in to the Palestinians, leveraged Israel’s advantages to unprecedented relations with much of the world – and all the time kept the country out of war and relatively safe.
Netanyahu has always projected a belief that, just as Winston Churchill’s destiny was to lead Britain and save the West, his own personal destiny was to lead Israel through treacherous waters and keep it secure. In his mind, that lofty destiny did not come with an expiration date – and the public showed on September 17 that it simply could not agree to that.