Netanyahu was the Author of his Near Defeat and Great Victory

Netanyahu found the way to return his base of voters to Likud. Now he has to do what he promised them.

Ted Belman,

OpEds Ted Belman
Ted Belman

Shortly after President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Likud, with Netanyahu at its head, was tasked with forming the government. He was concerned about balancing the pressure he was under from the right wing of the Likud, so he invited  Ehud Barak, a former Chief of Staff of the IDF and former Prime Minister, to break away from Labor by forming a new party so that the new party could be invited to join the Government.

For his troubles, Barak was made the Defense Minister, arguably the second most important ministry in the government. You will recall that Barak had made an unprecedented offer to Arafat in the peace negotiations under President Clinton.

He appointed Michael Oren to the post of Ambassador to the US. While Oren had great credentials for the post, he was also a left winger.

A few months later, under wilting pressure from Obama, he delivered his first Bar Ilan speech in which he embraced the two-state-solution subject to certain caveats, namely, Palestine must be demilitarized, and must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. In addition, Israel would need defensible borders, with Jerusalem remaining its united capital. The caveats made it impossible to really achieve the two-state-solution, but just as when President Bush delivered his speech in 2002 in which he envisaged a Palestinian state subject to certain caveats, the world quickly forgot about the caveats and embraced the future Palestine.

Obama pressured for more and Netanyahu delivered by announcing a unilateral 10 month construction freeze east of the pre-1967 Armistice lines, except for Jerusalem. He quietly applied it to Jerusalem as well. Both of these concessions were contrary to Likud’s platform and alienated much of his base.

After four years in office there were new elections. This time he merged with Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beyteinu, hoping to get a total of over 40 seats. To his chagrin, the public didn’t buy it and the combined party got only 31 seats. A weakened Netanyahu was forced to accept into the government the combo of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (19) and Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi (12). But first, on his own, he invited Tzipi Livni, head of the small Hatnua (6) party, to join the government. He rewarded her with the Ministry of Justice and appointed her head of Israel’s negotiating team.  Livni was experienced but was also a left winger. Netanyahu’s base was further alienated.

Bayit Yehudi was Naftali Bennett’s creation. His pro-settlement, anti-Palestine and anti-prisoner release platform attracted my many disgruntled right wing Likudniks thereby weakening Likud. Also Moshe Kahlon, a longtime member of Likud, withdrew and started his own party called Kulanu which campaigned on one issue namely lowering the cost of living. He complained that Likud had become complacent about that issue.

This government came under intense pressure from the Obama administration to make “gestures” to the Palestinian Authority to induce them to enter negotiations. This was a bizarre demand because if a party doesn’t not want to enter negotiations, it certainly doesn’t want to make concessions or consummate a deal. Netanyahu was given a choice of “gestures”, either release over 100 convicted Palestinian terrorists or freeze construction of settlements. He chose the former, to much outrage, and ultimately imposed the freeze as well.

This government was short lived. With Lapid and Livni pulling in a leftward direction, it proved ungovernable. Netanyahu disbanded the government and called for new elections to be held on March 17, 2015.

To his credit, Netanyahu, has done his utmost to ensure Israel’s security. In pursuit of this goal he planned to bomb Iran in 2012 to set back their nuclear program but was prevented from doing so by Obama’s leaks and pressure. Netanyahu never tires of repeating that he won’t jeopardize Israel’s security but never mentions our rights to Judea and Samaria. When the Levy Commission, which he appointed, determined that Judea and Samaria are not occupied territories according to the Geneva Conventions and the settlements are not illegal, Netanyahu inexplicably choose to shelve the report. Bennett has been pressing for its acceptance. It remains to be seen what Netanyahu will do.

During the election campaign, Congressman Boehner, Speaker of the House, invited him to address a joint session of the House and he leapt at the opportunity. Obama was apoplectic because he knew that Netanyahu had the potential to unseat his dash toward a bad deal with Iran. 

Obama did his utmost to discredit Netanyahu.  He also mobilized Democratic Congressmen and Senators to boycott the speech and not one of the senior echelons of his administration was allowed to attend. Nevertheless, the speech went ahead and was a resounding success. It greatly impacted the negotiations. In addition,

Congress has now prepared legislation that would require any deal with Iran to be treated as a treaty requiring the Senate’s approval. In a nearly unprecedented move, Sen Tom Cotton mobilized 47 Senators to sign a letter to Iran which said, “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Back to the elections

Obama was determined to remove Netanyahu from power and to install the Herzog/Linvi combo named Zionist Union. He mobilized his election team headed by Jeremy Bird for the job and allegedly arranged for the State Department to fund them to the tune of $350,000 for the job. And they weren’t alone in this effort. The EU also funded the anti-Netanyahu campaign as did a number of prominent foreign philanthropies. A perfect storm.

The US Senate has launched a bipartisan probe into the White House’s alleged funding of an NGO pushing for the ouster of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu choose to campaign on security and his experience. The Zionist Union mounted an “anybody but Bibi” campaign and mercilessly attacked him for everything, real or imagined. They supported Obama’s Iran policy and the peace process. They stressed many economic issues such as the high cost of housing and of living. Netanyahu choose not to defend himself on these issues, which he might have easily done, given the fact that under his leadership, Israel fared better in the aftermath of the economic crises which began in late 2008 than any other country. And the unemployment rate is the lowest of any developed nation.

On Friday, last, the last polls published showed Likud (21 to 22) trailing Zionist Union (25 to 26). Bibi had to close the gap. He decided to play up the fact that he was falling behind and asked for the nationalist camp to vote for Likud rather that other rightwing alternatives.  He pleaded with them to help close the gap. The national camp voters were very concerned that he would not be returned to power though they had many differences of opinions with him.

On Sunday night last, they mounted a massive rally in Tel Aviv which attracted 100,000 people - though the leftwing press reported that only tens of thousands attended.

Thereafter, he promised to make Moshe Kahlon finance Minister no matter how many seats Kulanu got.

Then on Monday evening, just before Tuesday, the voting day, Herzog announced that the Zionist Union was no more and that Livni had withdrawn her rotation agreement with him. This announcement was a bombshell.  What had happened? What could it mean? Evidently, internal polls conducted by the Zionist Union suggested that the gap was closing quickly and that something must be done to win the election. Their internal polls also suggested that if unpopular Livni dropped out, the remaining party, Labour, could get an additional 4 seats.  So the Hail Mary pass was thrown.

Exit polls published at 10.00 PM on Tuesday, showed Labour at 27 seats and Likud at either 27 or 28 seats. To Israelis this seemed to insure that Bibi would be tasked with forming the government. And overnight, the results got much better;  30 seats for Likud versus 24 for Zionist Union. A real blowout. It is unclear how the skewed exit polls were done.

Netanyahu announced that he would form a government from among the parties on the right only and the religious parties. He seems to have learned his lesson.

One of the reasons he succeeded in attracting Likudniks back to Likud was because of his policy announcements, those made in the last few days before the voting. He announced his own three “nos”: no to a Palestinian State, no to dividing Jerusalem and no to releasing terrorists. For good measure he added in one “yes”. Yes to building thousands of houses in Jerusalem in the face of all the (international) pressure.

As a result of returning to his base and appointing Kahlon, Finance Minister, the base returned to him. People realized the contest was just between Netanyahu and Herzog and voted for the two large parties. Bayit Yehudi dropped from a projected 12 seats to 8 and Kulanu dropped from 12 projected to 10 seats.

The first person Netanyahu called after the exit polls were announced was Naftali Bennett.

The new government can have a stable majority of 68.

This is a brilliant victory for Netanyahu.