*Two thriving states exist in Israel, one alongside the other.
The problem is, these are two states for one nation. There is the state of Tel
Aviv and its metropolitan areas — Gush Dan and the Sharon region — this is
the European state. It is characterized by a very high gross national product,
liberal values, diplomatic moderation, pragmatic security viewpoint and very
lively social-cultural life. Its capital is Tel Aviv. Next to it is the Judean
state, the Middle Eastern state. This state is haunted by archaic fears; it is
prickly, isolationist and conservative. It is a state that prefers religious
values over democratic ones, a state that is (justly) suspicious of its
neighbors. With one hand it grasps a firearm; with the other, a weapon. This
Middle Eastern state, whose capital city is Jerusalem, was victorious in
Israel's March 17 elections and defeated its European neighbor state.
Israel is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
but in reality it has other affiliations. By the way, sometime in the future,
history will demonstrate which of these states was more appropriate for the
country’s residents. Will the survival instincts of Israel’s residents in the
violent Middle East neighborhood emerge as justified over the arrogant cultural
bubble created by the residents of Israel’s “Europe”?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political exploits in the last
four days of his electoral campaign shaped one of the most amazing and
successful campaigns in the history of Israeli politics. According to all the
polls, at the end of the week helagged behind the Zionist Campby a steady disparity of four
seats. There were days last week when, in internal polls, it seemed Bibi might
get even fewer than 20 Knesset seats. The feeling was that Netanyahu was losing
his touch. That the Israeli public was tired of him and his spins.
Netanyahu embarked on a massive intimidation campaign, took off
his kid gloves, voraciously fell upon the parties to his right — Naftali
Bennett's HaBayit HaYehudi, Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beitenu and Eli Yishai's
Yachad — and ate them for breakfast. On the way, he left scorched earth
Netanyahu retracted hisBar Ilan speech, in which he accepted the establishment of a
Palestinian state — he will soon have to deal with the results of that
retraction — and announced that aPalestinian state would not arise.
He incited the Arab electorate in Israel, insulted Kulanu Party head Moshe
Kahlon, transformed Israel’s political left and center into “destroyers of the
nation” and promised the moon to everyone — just to remain in power. Netanyahu
is a no-holds-barred politician but an effective one. What wins is his
tremendous, unconquerable desire to continue to be premier. Opposite him stood
a colorless politician, uncharismatic and lacking claims to any
security-defense credentials. A candidate who, we see after the fact, could not
Now the lesson is final: Israelis love to talk about
socio-economic issues, but they will vote for the security ticket. It’s a fact.
Two sectors must do some soul-searching. First, the pollsters. We
have not seen a setback like this for a long time. Only one pollster, the
American Mark Mellman, who works for Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid, foresaw victory
for the Likud the entire time. A week before the elections, when all the other
pollsterspredicted a four-seat leadfor Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog over Netanyahu, Mellman
predicted a four-seat lead for Netanyahu. No one, including the writer of this
article, took him seriously. Only one pollster versus all the rest.
An entire industry of polls went bankrupt on March 17. Not only
did they mess up throughout the entire campaign, they evenfailed at the moment of truth,
with highly publicized, deluxe television mockups. Channels 10 and 1 declared a
tie of 27; Channel 2 determined 27 for Herzog and 28 for Netanyahu. The
final results were completely different: a resounding 30 seats for the
Likud and 24 for the Zionist Camp (prior to counting the soldiers’ votes).
Netanyahu enlarged his pool of voters by about 60% in three to
four days. This points to the survival instincts and the strong life wish of
the ideological right-wing electors who told themselves: "Yes, we love Bennett,
we cling to Liberman — but if we don’t vote Netanyahu, the left will return to
power and it will all be over." So they returned to Netanyahu. Not
for love so much as for lack of choice. He knew how to play all the right
chords at the right time, and win.
The second sector in need of some soul-searching is the media,
including thewriter of these lines. We
will have to enrich our toolbox; our addiction to polls turned out to be
ruinous. Just imagine someone getting into your cell phone and stealing your
Waze application, or any other GPS you use. Suddenly you’d have to navigate on
your own. To go back to the streets, the alleyways, the strange names,
directions, left-right and spatial orientation. The more the polling/sampling
industry and the surveys have grown and improved, the more we have gotten rusty
and out of practice. Instead of looking for the people, we found the pollsters.
So, now it’s over. The TV samples also won’t go back to what they used to be,
once upon a time. Now, we will also have to get used to working with our feet
There is someone else who has to re-examine himself on the morning
of March 18: US President Barack Obama. This morning, a highly placed Israeli
personality who is well versed in US-Israel relations over the generations (but
understandably asked to remain anonymous) told me: “The American administration
is also to blame for Netanyahu’s progression to exaggerated dimensions,” she
“President Obama allowed Netanyahu toreach the heart of the
administration’s nerve centerand stand
there, to deliver a speech to both houses of Congress, as if he was the
American president and not the head of a tiny country dependent on the US. Next
to Netanyahu, Obama suddenly seemed like Isaac Herzog. He publicly hazed the
president, and got home safe and sound. The Americans should have made
Netanyahu pay a price, but they did not do this. It’s a shame they didn’t look
into what happened in 1975, whenPresident Gerald Fordwanted to teach the Israeli government a lesson, announcing a
'reassessment of relations' between the countries.
"It took the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin only a few
short months before he gave in. The Israelis are a nation dealing with
survival, and the most important thing to them is not to be taken for suckers.
They watched their prime minister take the strongest person in the world to
task; they also watched as Netanyahu’s patron, right-wing Republican
gambling magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, also humiliate the president
whenever he wants. They understood that, althoughIsrael’s ambassador to WashingtonRon Dermer is persona non grata in the administration, he
continues to circulate in the US as much as he wants. They understood that Bibi
defeated Obama. This deepens the tragedy with everything regarding the
functioning of the American administration in the Middle East arena in general
and the Israeli arena in specific, from the first minute.”
What will happen now? The educated guess is that Netanyahu will
establish the government he committed himself to, with the right wing and the
ultra-Orthodox. Then afterward he will try to attach Herzog or Lapid to it, to
provide the fig leaf to help him deal with the many hardships waiting for him
in the international arena.
The current kingmaker is Kahlon, the man who came from nowhere and
raked in 10 seats. While these very words are being written, political feelers
are underway between Kahlon and Liberman (who succeeded in surviving against
all odds) to establish a joint political bloc. Together, with 16 seats,
they would be able to leverage themselves and hint to Netanyahu that all
options are open.
Kahlon wants to be finance minister. Liberman wants to be defense
minister. An alliance with Kahlon would give Liberman a one-up over Bennett,
who also wants the Defense Ministry portfolio (an article printed recently here
in Al-Monitor covered theanticipated scuffle over the security
post). When we add to this mix the fact that current Defense
Minister Moshe Ya’alon really does not want to leave his job, we uncover
Netanyahu’s first headache. And we haven’t even talked about what kind of
reception Netanyahu’s government will receive if its defense minister is
Bennett or even Liberman.
In the center-left arena: deep mourning. Herzog was a colorless
candidate, and the addition of Tzipi Livni as co-chair did not help things
much. Israel in 2015 is much more right-wing and religious than a decade or two
prior. Demography has had a share in this (the natural increase in followers of
the National Religious Party and ultra-Orthodox Jews is much higher than that
of secular Jews). But the “wonders” of the “new Middle East” and the “Arab
Spring,” including the second intifada, also had an effect.
No, the game isn’t over yet. Someday it will be possible to change
Israel’s government, but for that the left will have to equip itself with a
real “Mr. Security” — a candidate with a strong security background. Only two
such persons from the left took over the government in the last 25 years:
Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. Both were former chiefs of staff. In the current
era, Netanyahu operates a predatory propagandist political machine that
neutralizes any such potential threat. The last was former Chief of StaffGabi Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi
is now waiting for the decision of the legal adviser to the government; the
latter is expected to close the case against him. When that happens, Ashkenazi
is expected almost overnight to become the Great White Hope of the center-left.
Another in a series of hopefuls who usually turn into false hopes on their way