Victory close to defeat for
Netanyahu By Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM - As expected, Benjamin
Netanyahu has been ensured another term in office
following elections in Israel this week. Against
all expectations, he could have been defeated.
Now, he faces uncertainty over the kind of
governing coalition he will lead and thus the kind
of policies he will carry out. And he faces a
lingering question: can any prospective coalition
The initial result was astounding -
floating around a tie between Netanyahu's
right-wing camp with 61 seats and his center-left
opposition with 59 seats in the Knesset
parliament's 120 seats.
So, addressing the
Israel voter, the self-designate new prime
minister decidedly put on a brave face of his own.
"I'm proud to be your prime minister. Once
again, you've proven
that Israel is an exemplary
vibrant and dynamic democracy," Netanyahu
harangued his supporters at the Likud-Beitenu
headquarters located on the metropolitan's
Results show that support for
the joint Likud-Beitenu list of candidates
Netanyahu headed has dropped dramatically, from
its previous 42 seats to as few as 31.
Former TV star Yair Lapid, a
newcomer in politics, stole the show. His centrist
party Yesh 'Atid (There's a Future) has become the
second largest, with 19 seats.
Empowered with a strong
social program focusing on cheaper housing for
young couples, compulsory draft of religious
students exempted from serving in the military
and, in general, with an uncompromising fight
against social iniquities, Lapid has suddenly
emerged as the kingmaker of any future sustainable
"Our responsibility is to
form the largest possible coalition," Lapid
pledged during his party's celebration.
Lapid's vow was echoed by the
prime minister-designate. "We must forge the
largest possible coalition and, I am in the
process of fulfilling this mission," promised
Netanyahu barely two hours after the exit polls.
"It won't be easy," predicts
Uri Levy, news editor at Israel's public
television. "He'll have to compromise, change his
way of thinking." Netanyahu is known to be adverse
Election Day seemed
auspicious. Flanked by his two sons and his wife,
the incumbent Netanyahu was one of the first
Israelis to cast a ballot for his Likud-Beitenu
list of candidates.
Since he had called for early
elections, Israelis were made to believe by
opinion polls what Netanyahu himself was made to
believe - his re-election for another term at the
helm was a certainty.
"He's obviously not very
happy with what happened," is Levy's
understatement. "He expected a lot more mandates."
The politically savvy
Netanyahu made a beginner's mistake.
First, by merging his
right-wing Likud list with the more right-wing
Israel-Beitenu party, he alienated supporters who
dislike either one of the two parties.
Then, he harassed the further
to-the-right Naphtali Bennett because polls, which
he's known to check compulsively, predicted that
Bennett's Jewish Home party which caters to
settlers' interests would enjoy unprecedented
support - though it didn't. There too the opinion
polls were misleading.
Albeit a bright and sunny
Election Day, it's neither a bright future nor a
sunny political horizon which got Netanyahu
re-elected, but fear - fear of a third Palestinian
Intifadah uprising; fear of fallouts from the
bloody civil war raging in neighboring Syria; fear
of Iran's nuclear programme.
Netanyahu is adept at playing
those fears. Hence, his opening remarks at the
start of the last cabinet meeting two days before
Election Day. "The problem in the Middle East is
Iran's attempt to build nuclear weapons, and the
chemical weapons in Syria," he warned.
added: "History won't forgive those who allow Iran
to arm itself with nuclear weapons. This was and
remains the main mission facing not only myself
and Israel, but the entire world."
campaign was as dull and dormant as the political
status quo he has prudently maintained during his
Except for a 10-month freeze
on settlement construction and one brief encounter
with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
in 2010, he has made no peace moves towards the
He launched a brief military
operation on Hamas in the Gaza Strip in November
and suffered a stinging defeat at the UN ten days
later when the General Assembly voted by
overwhelming majority to upgrade Palestine to
"non-member observer state".
sounded the alarm against Iran's nuclear
programme; threatened unilateral military action;
yet refrained from committing himself to both his
own red line and deadline.
Making national security and
national strength the twin themes of his campaign,
Netanyahu underestimated the lack of social
security felt by a middle class weakened and
pressured by his ultra-liberal economic policy.
Netanyahu ignored the fear
shared by a majority of Israelis of a
socio-economic downfall, an anxiety so apparent
one-and-a-half years ago when half a million
demonstrators descended to the street and demanded
"The election results provide
an opportunity for change for the benefits of all
our citizens," now reluctantly retorts the
champion of unbridled liberalism.
Netanyahu won and lost the
elections at the same time. He won because
Israelis fear change; he almost lost because they
strongly feel for change.