Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

Netanyahu, at the Heart of the Game, Wherever he is

Since the Jewish state was founded and until further notice, no single person has been the center of political life before, whether it is a leader of the government or the opposition.

Before Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history and the most powerful and influential opposition figure in the country, that is. Alliances were established to keep the man analysts have dubbed the king of the domestic game in power when he was faced with four corruption cases, allowing him to escape prosecution because the judiciary couldn’t make a conclusive decision.

On the other hand, alliances and coalitions have also been established to topple him. They managed to temporarily remove him from the Prime Minister’s office, but they could evade the influence of his shadow looming over Israeli executive and parliamentary life. Even in the opposition, he had a foot in the door of the Prime Minister’s office, as he won an equal number of seats to his opponents; Netanyahu would have managed to retain his leadership of the country if he had managed to recruit one additional Knesset Member. When his return to office became all but certain, the opposition went into action. What did his rivals do? They opted for early elections that they have no guarantees of winning.

The only program of the coalition concocted to bring him down was this very objective. Netanyahu’s ghost has left it totally paralyzed, rendering the government a fleeting, confusing configuration of political powers that neither has the capacity to force through any serious legislation in the Knesset nor to take worthwhile executive decisions. And when the government formation game in Israel ended with “King Netanyahu” as the leader of the opposition, the anti-Bibi coalition was put in intensive care. It lived on respirators until the coalition’s parties got tired of its brain death and decided to pull the plug on this experiment.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu continues to demonstrate that he doesn’t snooze. He cannot be overwhelmed, and he keeps playing until the last moment. His current scheme is to avoid the dissolution of the Knesset, in what is not a reflection of his fear of early elections in as much as it is a maneuver to buy time that could end with a counter coalition that brings him to power without elections. If he succeeds - despite the difficulty and perhaps impossibility of this task- then he would return to the Prime Minister’s office with minimal losses. In the event that he fails, early elections would not pose a genuine threat to him.

Benjamin Netanyahu continues to be a hurdle standing in the way of his opponents and his camp’s only savior. His influence does stem exclusively from his qualities and merits as a politician and ruler but also from the weaknesses and limitations of those facing him.

Naftali followed in Netanyahu’s footsteps as prime minister, and the latter’s power-sharing agreement with Gantz functioned like a game of cat-and-mouse. Netanyahu’s vast, rich experience allowed him to come out on top, with Gantz letting the Premiership slip through his fingers and land in Netanyahu’s hands.

The Israelis monitored Bennett’s performance. Despite everything he did, Bennet couldn’t convince them that he was a prime minister. He ascended to the leadership by virtue of a series of miraculous events, as his is the smallest parliamentary bloc in the Knesset, but the game ended with him on top. Meanwhile, the man with the largest bloc, the most potent force in Israeli politics, ended the game as head of the opposition.

This paradoxical state of affairs did not make little Bennet into a towering figure, nor did not make it make the great Netanyahu a puny political force, especially since Bennett was half a prime minister- so to speak- sharing the position with another half prime minister. Both men have less merit than the one standing right outside the door, which forced them to finally drive the government off a cliff.

To sum up, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, by virtue of having been at the heart of Israeli political life for so long, has been branded with every epithet in the book: magician, corrupt, selfish, king, rival, the perpetrator, and the victim, has left Israel shaped by his personal whims.

He has reached a situation in which he is either a prime minister or a specter that frightens any rival prime minister. Here he is now, still at the center of political life in Israel, wherever he finds himself. Let us wait and see how the remaining chapters of this Israeli political theater play will end, how it will go on, and where it leads.