The cards have certainly been stacked against Benjamin Netanyahu being Israel’s next Prime Minister after three recent major developments – but he is by no means down and out.
Those developments are:
- Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to pursue Netanyahu for alleged criminal offences – explained by Elena Chachko as follows:
“Mandelblit only announced that he is considering indicting Netanyahu. In other words, the announcement does not mean that Netanyahu would necessarily be indicted. This is not specific to Netanyahu’s case, but rather a feature of the Israeli justice system: Netanyahu, like most criminal defendants in Israel who face serious charges, will get a hearing before a final decision is made. Based on news reports and past precedents, the hearing will take place several months from now, after the April elections. This process is governed by the guidelines of the state attorney—the official subordinate to the attorney general who directs prosecutions—for notification and hearing in criminal proceedings.”
- Three political parties coalescing into the Blue and White Party - promising that two of the three previous leaders – former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid – will each be Prime Minister for half of the next Government’s term of office if they form the next coalition..
- Netanyahu’s role in precipitating a marriage of convenience between Jewish Home, National Union and an extreme right wing party Otzma Yehudit with alleged links to the assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane’s banned political party Kach – which has caused some consternation and anger in Israel, America and Australia.
It remains to be seen whether these three developments translate into Netanyahu not being Israel’s next Prime Minister.
Bret Stephens - one of Netanyahu’s most trenchant critics from before these developments - penned an op-ed article in the New York Times “Netanyahu must go” in which even he grudgingly admits:
“As I noted last year, in matters of policy and execution, Netanyahu has been a remarkably effective prime minister. On his watch, Israel’s economy has thrived, its diplomatic horizons have widened, its borders have been defended and its enemies humiliated. Thanks to Donald Trump, whom he cultivated astutely and assiduously, he got his way on the Iran deal, brought the American Embassy to Jerusalem and pursued openings with the Arab world without making irreversible concessions to the Palestinians.
"Israel’s critics may like none of this, but from an Israeli standpoint they are considerable successes.”
President Trump and Vladimir Putin’s relationships with Netanyahu are not enjoyed by any other candidates.
A spirited defence distinguishing Otzma Yehudit’s policies from those of the Kach Party has been made by Otzma candidate – Itamar Ben Gvir.
The 2015 election results provide a useful guide as to the likely impact these three developments might have on Netanyahu’s chances:
- the Likud Party only received 23.4% of the vote – hardly a ringing endorsement for Netanyahu and
- 72% of those eligible voted – very high when compared to America’s 58.1%.
Likud’s low supporter-base seems unlikely to desert Netanyahu.
Voter turnout would have to increase dramatically or huge swings away from other right-wing parties would be needed to give Blue and White the nod needed to be invited by President Rivlin to form a coalition Government ahead of Netanyahu.
The unknown elephants in the room are the number of terrorist attacks and international political developments affecting Israel in the next five weeks that will concentrate voters’ minds – when actually casting their votes - on who can best safeguard their personal safety and Israel’s security.
Netanyahu is certainly not out of the race.