Well, we are heading for a third indecisive round of elections, as Bibi Netanyahu is still alive and kicking everything that moves, primarily the pants of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, against whom he has declared war. Bibi the Magician is waging battle on three fronts: in the south against Hamas, in the north against Iran, and in front of the prosecutor’s office on Saladin Street in East Jerusalem. The latter has become a strategic threat to him. Not a simulated one like Iran, but a real threat, one that is leading him to prison.
Bibi succeeded in cancelling the nuclear deal with Iran and even helped to crown Donald Trump. He reached understandings and an arrangement with Hamas. Against the Israeli justice system, however, he has failed, and so he’s declared war against it. The previous battle cry “There will be nothing because there was nothing” has been replaced by “They [the prosecutor’s office] are carrying out a government coup.” Hence, for Bibi, there is one sacred task on the agenda of the upcoming elections: to keep him out of prison and stop the prosecution from launching a “governmental putsch.” The tragedy is that the next round of elections will fail to yield the 61 mandates that Bibi needs in order to gain immunity and escape the hand of the law, as the result is likely to be, again, stalemate between the blocs. What was not achieved in the previous two rounds will not be achieved in the third, and as Bibi’s rival in the Likud, Gideon Sa’ar, puts it: “Netanyahu has no chance of forming a government.”
The current political dilemma tells the sad story of Israeli society. Half a nation is ready to re-elect Bibi for the third time, even as he carries on his shoulders three heavy charges including bribery and breach of trust. Half a nation believes in Bibi’s right to do for himself as long as he also allows them to do for themselves. Bibi captured the heart of the “second Israel” and created a Mizrachi middle class that, even though he himself is far removed from its lifestyle and mentality, feels that if he goes the jobs that he created will be lost too. The same welfare state enables millions of Israelis to go through Ben Gurion Airport to any tourist destination of their choice and enjoy life. The fear of the unknown overcomes any consideration of integrity or equality before the law.
In this situation, the question is what the “first Israel” is doing. The truth? Not much. It prefers to sit and not do – in other words, the less you say, the less you attack and expose your attitudes, the better. The public does not need to know too much about your intentions and plans for the future beyond a few words about courtesy, unity versus division, and maintaining the rule of law. In the meantime, one can hope that the prosecutor’s office and the Jerusalem District Court will take care of everything else.
But the truth that may be hard to grasp is that Bibi is on the way to prison, no matter how many rounds of elections it takes. In the end, once the legal system decided to aim at him, there was no one to save him. Although the fish continues to gasp and struggle in the net, it is doomed. The opposition is therefore silent so as not to make Netanyahu seem a victim and increase support from his base. For it, if Sa’ar fails in the Likud primaries, another round of elections will be held and there will be another failure to achieve the long-awaited 61 mandates, after which Bibi’s tenure will end and the nightmare will come to a close.
However, the very fact that we are facing a third round shows the pathetic nature of the opposition, which did not know how to win and form a government even though the opponent had already become a lame duck. The behaviour of the Blue and White party indicates that Bibi is still alive and kicking because he has no substitute—or more accurately, he has a worse substitute than the original. Blue and White is not a cohesive party, but a collection of retired generals who failed in business, as well as a megalomaniac politician (Yair Lapid) whose entire aspiration is to be prime minister, for which purpose he formed a one-leader party over which he rules.
Netanyahu continues to act as prime minister because he does not currently have a replacement. Blue and White is not a political and governmental alternative, as haters of Bibi and the second Israel know too well. Why did Blue and White repeatedly clarify that it was ready for a national unity government without Bibi? Because Benny Gantz cannot form a government without the Likud. All coalitions with Avigdor Lieberman and/or the ultra-Orthodox would soon fall apart.
We are going to a third round of elections not only because Bibi wants to save his skin, but because Blue and White is unable to build an alternative coalition. On this Netanyahu is counting. Even as he walks around with three indictments, and even after failing to get 61 seats in the second round of elections, he continues to be the candidate most likely to form a government.
This is indeed a strange situation, with the only candidate who can form a government prevented from doing so because he is accused of bribery. The truth is that unlike Olmert, Netanyahu did not stuff envelopes full of cash into his pocket, and the heaviest accusation against him is that he used his power to perpetuate his rule by controlling the media. One can ask what’s strange about that? His friend, Trump, “is the darling of” the Fox TV network that billionaire Rupert Murdoch placed at his disposal, just as Sheldon Adelson gave Bibi the daily called Israel Hayom, and Shaul Elovitz gave him the Walla online news site. Like Putin, Erdogan and many others, all Netanyahu wants is to continue to “serve the people” because like them, he wholeheartedly believes he expresses their spirit and their desires.
The Likud remains the only mass party, and its cohesion allows Netanyahu to rule with a steady hand. Blue and White is an ad hoc, rootless party that incarnates the “anti-Bibi” movement. That is why Netanyahu’s departure (and he is indeed about to leave in one way or another following the “prosecutor’s coup”) creates a huge vacuum. We must expect that the current Israeli crisis will only deepen as soon as Netanyahu exits. If Benny Gantz wants to continue Bibi’s path without Bibi, he will run into all the problems Bibi could sweep under the rug, most notably the Palestinian question. This is an acute question that the “first Israel” refuses to touch, afraid of losing its slim chance of holding power.
In its DNA, Israeli society is largely right-wing. It denies the possibility of any coalition with Arab parties and is hostile to the Palestinians. These conventions are deeply rooted in Israeli consciousness. They lead to conflict with Palestinian aspirations for independence and equal rights. The paradox is that right-wing Israeli society is unwilling to pay the price of the sacrifices the ongoing conflict demands, a fact that will force it, in a moment of real confrontation, to examine new paradigms.
While Israel’s upcoming election campaign, the third in one year, will address the “rule of law,” the question that all parties refuse to discuss is “rule over another people.” The rule of law in Israel is not in jeopardy, because despite all the arguments and interpretations, a consensus supports it. By contrast, the “rule over another people” poses a real danger to both Israelis and Palestinians.
Against the rule over another people, there exists in Israel today no real alternative to Netanyahu. Gantz and Lapid applaud the US State Department’s decision to recognize the legality of the settlements, while Meretz and the Joint List adhere to the two-state illusion, which is no longer relevant. In the meantime, the West Bank is coming to understand that the path facing the Palestinians is a single state between the Jordan River and the sea. Influenced by the democratic, civilian revolutions in Lebanon and Iraq, and by the Arab Spring that overthrows regimes, Palestinian youth will seek to adopt new democratic paradigms. Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism are losing ground.
Therefore, in the third round of elections, Da’am—The Workers’ Party—will reiterate its “Green Economy – One State” program as a platform for change, and as a contribution to an Israeli-Palestinian joint struggle for a democratic and equitable society.