Skip to main content

Bibi, King of Swing!

Some parts of the press dubbed him King Bibi, but these elections are a resounding vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, writes Ben Caspit.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands behind a booth as he casts his ballot for the parliamentary election at a polling station in Jerusalem January 22, 2013. Israelis voted on Tuesday in an election that is expected to see Netanyahu win a third term in office, pushing the Jewish state further to the right, away from peace with the Palestinians and towards a showdown with Iran. REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

What should have been a laid-back afternoon stroll suddenly turned dizzily nerve-wracking. True, Benjamin Netanyahu will likely be the next prime minister, but before he gets sworn in, he’ll work up a sweat running back and forth pleading. He’ll rant and he’ll rage as he tries to squeeze the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

He’ll reinvent the wheel, and himself, while he’s at it. He’ll call for a National Unity government and he’ll talk about a broad-based government too. But deep inside he’ll know that he failed, that he suffered a devastating political blow, and that he received a resounding vote of no-confidence from the public. There can be no greater political drama. The pollsters fell asleep on their watch. The pundits couldn’t read the map. The people of Israel are smarter than all of them. They proved that they’re not suckers.

Let’s start with Netanyahu. Some people called him King Bibi, but this was a king whose very kingdom spewed him out, whose own subjects couldn’t stand him, and whose public voted no-confidence in him. This was a king who almost lost a war, even though there was no clear enemy. This was a king who only managed to tie a team of battered, defeated rivals down in the dirt without any real agenda. The only reason Benjamin Netanyahu will be prime minister is because there is no alternative, and that is the result of a series of fascist laws intended to isolate the political system and defend against any talented populist outsiders from gaining admittance. Netanyahu is one of the least popular Israeli prime ministers … ever!

He would have been tossed out of the prime minister’s office if only some reasonable candidate ran against him. It already happened to him once, in 1999.

Yair Lapid is the big winner. In some certain constellation of forces, he could even be the next prime minister. It’s reasonable to assume that this won’t happen because Lapid isn’t ready for that role, either. Everything he does in the months ahead will have one single motivation behind it: How can he advance his chances to take it up a notch in the next elections. Lapid has an enormous burden of responsibility weighing down on him now. He mustn’t disappoint.

Masses of people voted for him without even knowing what’s hiding behind him or what really lies between his shoulders. From now on, Lapid can either sink or soar. The cost of error will be steep, and he will have to make some difficult decisions. Lapid can force Netanyahu to form a sane, centrist, Zionist government, which changes the system, which drafts the ultra-Orthodox, and which goes back to the negotiating table. Netanyahu will do everything — and that means everything — to remain prime minister, because in the end, that’s all Netanyahu cares about. If Lapid is different, if Yair Lapid cares about the country, he will have to force Netanyahu to change. He will have to insert a spine in the prime minister and help him recreate himself.

This will be a long, nerve-wracking night in Israel. Every seat that moves in either direction could help or hinder a potential new government. Coalition negotiations are already proceeding at full force, with everyone talking to everybody. But one voice stands out among the din. It is the parched voice of the sitting prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who earned his troubles legitimately. He already dug his own political grave, and now he’s struggling for his political life.

Ben Caspit is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers, and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial