Op-Ed: Israel's Press: Were the Elections an Upheaval?
No, there was no earthquake, no upheaval. The left-center bloc cannot form a government nor can it block Netanyahu's chances of doing so.
And even if President Peres tries his best to avoid it, he will be forced to give Netanyahu, albeit a Netanyahu whose wings have been clipped, the task of forming the next government.
And while a great many lessons will be learned from these election results, in this column, we will limit ourselves to elucidating how Netanyahu brought them upon himself.
The big surprise of the election was, of course, the massive transfer of votes to Yair Lapid that occurred, according to pundits, during the last days before the voting took place – and at the expense of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party, among others.
Bennett lost those votes – which were evidence of an unprecedented level of support from the secular population – due to targeted hits "below the belt" from the Likud, apparently with Netanyahu's tacit approval, and possibly at his initiative.
And that's how the Likud shot itself in the leg.
The Likud did not gain any Knesset seats by mounting a smear campaign against Rabbi Dov Lior (Rabbi of Kiryat Arba, ed.) and a concomitant character assassination of candidate Orit Strook of Hevron. Quite the contrary – it caused voters to leave the nationalist camp straight for the arms of Lapid's amorphous Yesh Atid party. The Likud's propaganda machine resurrected the old "shooting within the troop carrier" custom back from the days of Shamir and Sharon, ceaselessly aiming relentless machine gun fire on Bennett and the Jewish Home party – and it almost lost the election.
The Likud lost many other votes because of its immoral, foolish and unacceptable long term way of running things. These votes would have made the difference between the current situation where it is barely keeping its head above water electorally versus achieving Netanyahu's goal of obtaining a strong base for a stable government.
Netanyahu had lost seats to Bennett, not because of the latter's superior – and evident – abilities, but because of his own actions in distancing the ideological elements of the Likud. He left them no home other than the "Jewish Home".
There is no use going into all the sorry details, but let us state only the most obvious of those errors: the "two states for two peoples" speech; the construction freeze that included Jerusalem; allowing his enemy Ehud Barak to work against him by persecuting the residents of Judea and Samaria with every measure his control of the military government there could allow, from midnight expulsions and destruction to banishment and exile; throwing the Edmond Levy Report into the dustbin; drastic limits to Jewish property rights in Hevron; not really responding to the PA statehood challenge in the United Nations.
Netanyahu's judgment is faulty if he did not realize that events of such magnitude would exact an electoral price. And if he thought that in exchange for giving up the spiritual identity and ideological core of his movement – its very soul – he would gain the admiration of the "peace camp" – he does not have a proper grasp of reality. If he thought that he would gain international approval by sacrificing party loyalists on the altar of "moderation", flexibility and pragmatism, he committed an egregious mistake. In fact, in a conversation between the two, French President Sarkozy called Netanyahu a "liar" and U.S. President Obama mourned the "bitter fate" that forced them to be in frequent contact.
The Likud likes to call itself the "ruling party". May we remind it that there was a previous ruling party, one that still uses the initials "EMT" (read as "emet", Hebrew for truth), that was defeated by the campaign slogan "So then tell us the truth!". Why did that happen? Because the EMT party, Labor, lied and lied, until the sheer weight of its lies brought it down.
There is no doubt that had Netanyahu not told every world leader and every media personality or political figure here in Israel exactly what each one wanted to hear – always intending to do nothing of the sort – had he spoken and acted with clarity and integrity according to the Jewish and Zionist truths in which he believes, the hostile world and the hallucinatory left would not have stopped attacking him. But they would have given him their grudging respect. Israelis would not have developed the prevalent apathy and disinterest towards the Likud and its leader that observers noted before election eve. Activists would not have discovered that Likud voters do not expect anything from their party and don't believe its promises. That is what really cost the Likud the seats that make the whole difference now.
Netanyahu's third term will give him another chance to return to his roots, if his party is still able to do so and if it will let him continue to be at its helm. Because if the Likud continues on the way it did during the campaign and continues to blame others for its problems, it will find itself where the previous ruling party ended up – and there will be those who will take its place. The key to this return is in the hands of the wonderful nationalist core that the Likud itself chose for its Knesset list and in the hands of the rightist parties that are outside it.
Hope springs eternal.