They call the next round of elections the “wasted elections”. Who are they? Likud ministers, two party leaders and two potential candidates. This column is based on a summary of observations made during a string of conversations I had with them.
This is not exact science. If the wind changes and polls prove otherwise, their opinion of what is to come will change as well. There are no great principles here but one: Netanyahu.
The sad thing about this story is that things were said off the record. Why? because for them, talking on the record will probably be a political mistake.
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The attitude towards Netanyahu is a resource in Israel of 2018. The flatterers do this for political reasons, the silent players are unable to butter up, and so they prefer to talk about political birds flying according to the migration season.
The holidays of Tishrei are a time of reckoning filled with children’s noise, at least for me. Part of the process is political self-examination.
I write this without mentioning names because there is no other way. They talk a lot, always circling around the answers when asked about Netanyahu, they are afraid, perhaps politically wise.
Unfortunately, in these talks, moral issues are rarely raised, what is right for the state, the way leaders present themselves, setting a personal example, integrity, and many other terms seem to apply to the common taxpayer alone.
What comes up in these talks are possibilities and connections, situations that can instigate a political storm and those that cannot—I heard enough to know that they expect things to change in the upcoming elections. They want to be in the race, without losing too much.
The assumption of my interlocutors is that Netanyahu will be re-elected prime minister in the next elections. He enjoys public’s support more than ever before.
His political path is accepted by most Israelis—including yours truly. The populist method of pointing fingers at the left and the media works for him as well.
When he stands on the podium and speaks impeccable English at the United Nations, while demonstrating tremendous rhetorical skills, everyone around him seem like grasshoppers.
He is destroying the Bayit Yehudi party and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman— we will touch upon it soon—and collects odd mandates here and there, including those belonging to Shas.
Those who support the prime minister, in particular, apparently do not mind the prime minister’s affairs currently being investigated, they apparently do not care about his corruption and hedonism.
Some of them are sworn ‘Bibists’ who support him through thick and thin. Others rely on cost-benefit considerations and are willing to turn a blind eye—a healthy logic that cannot be discounted, even if I think otherwise. That is how these senior politicians reach a point of despair, or make peace with the situation, or wait—you decide.
On the one hand, they can’t tolerate the prime minister’s mixing of the personal and national, the character assassination, and, perhaps mainly, his attitude towards them.
On the other hand, they have no choice. They must go with Netanyahu because it is not possible to go anywhere without him. Their words are more severe than any newspaper article Netanyahu enjoyes criticizing, but outside they are the teacer’s pet,expert at evasions and staying silent.
One of them fantasizes about a deal in which Netanyahu resigns before the next elections and all cases against him drop. He clings to the fact that one of his lawyers, Eyal Cohen—who once represented Dep. Comm. Roni Ritman, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit —specializes in closing criminal cases quietly, through deals.
In my opinion, this fantasy is based on wishful thinking, since even if Netanyahu wants a deal, it is better for him to sign it as prime minister.
The others talk about a ticking clock that will start ticking immediately after the elections and the formation of the next coalition. The time for filing indictments is a mystery that depends on Mandelblit. The police should submit another recommendation in case 4000, followed by a hearings and decision making.
One of the biggest failures in Israel is the slow pace of the justice system. Innocent and guilty people alike are being crushed by the wheels of justice. They suffer from injustice and delay of justice, but this is the reality nowadays.
Netanyahu, according to their assessment, will enter the next elections as a strong and successful leader on one hand and as a victim of the system on the other.
Publicity-wise, he is branded as a right-wing leader, right as the Bayit Yehudi party—in words, not in deeds— so they are not really needed, Shas is on the election threshold, and so is Lieberman.
That is why Bennett abandoned his plan to create an alternative to the Likud party, and combine different groups into one audience. He gathers around Netanyahu, trying to preserve what is, while attacking Lieberman and refraining from mentioning the prime minister in public.
This is why Lieberman hopes the election threshold, which he himself has raised, will drop again under Netanyahu’s command. This is also the reason for the public squabbling over the strategy regarding Gaza and Hamas—A strategy that does not exist.
The next step according to agreed upon scenario is the looming indictment. For that reason, the next elections could take place in the middle of 2019 and a month later an indictment would be filed, which will shuffle the cards all over again.
A year may pass. In a just world, a prime minister cannot serve as prime minister when going in and out of court. There were those in the Likud—including Netanyahu— who said in the past that a prime minister under investigation cannot function properly. They forgot that statement.
That is why Netanyahu will try to reach a coalition agreement in the next elections which will allow him to serve in office even if an indictment against him is filed. What is such an agreement worth? Nothing. Netanyahu knows that best of all.
And so, the scenario of the “wasted elections” comes into play: the coalition will be taken apart, a month or six months after Netanyahu’s indictment and his ensuing downfall, maybe via a plea deal.
And they will wait, and let Miri Regev and Ayoob Kara keep up their good flattery work, paying lip service. “What do you want me to do?” a Likud member asked, “that’s the last act”— Netanyahu will go and they will take his place.
The problem is that after a strong leader leaves—chaos comes knocking. It is reasonable to assume that the stock exchanges will fall, as will the shares of the ruling party. No one is going to get the title of the running prime minister from others, especially not those I talked to.
They wait together, careful not to stand out by presenting alternatives, or criticizing the prime minister, thus successfully avoiding their own beheading.
Only one element was left out of this discussion: the element of surprise. US President Donald Trump surprised Hillary Clinton in America. Netanyahu surprised even himself in the last elections, when he received 30 mandates.
Before Netanyahu there were Lapid, the Pensioners Party and others. Parties can fail to pass the election threshold. Benny Gantz, Orly Levy-Abekasis , Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, Aryeh Deri, Lieberman and Bennett—Each and every one of them entered the casino.