Can the 1996 Miracle Repeat? Netanyahu Is in Trouble

03/12/2015 01:56 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015

Israel, being the Holy Land, is the place for miracles to happen. That includes also political miracles, and one of them occurred in 1996, when in the first ever direct elections to the premiership, a young, articulate, black-haired politician named Benjamin Netanyahu defeated the iconic PM, Shimon Peres, and defied all the pundits; and what's more, the entire international community, led by then President Clinton, who yearned for the veteran Peres to defeat the upstart Netanyahu.

It seems that this time around, Netanyahu circa 2015, a veteran, worn-out and grey-haired politician needs another miracle. History tends to repeat itself but not always, and this time the odds are that Netanyahu is going to lose. This blog has been consistently skeptical, if not outright negative, about a repeat performance of a Netanyahu victory, and a few days prior to election day, the polls are united about the dwindling chances of the PM. It is beyond polls, it is what the Israelis call the Shetach [the street], the overall atmosphere. Usually it is the Likud troops who set the tone in the street and give a sense of invincibility to their party, something that usually has happened since 1977. But not this time. So what is fueling the perception that Netanyahu is on the losing end? It is not any sudden surge of enthusiasm for the Labor Party [the Zionist Camp, as they are called now], and surely not for their leader, Yitzhak Herzog, a highly capable politician who lacks even a shred of charisma (a right-wing popular singer somewhat viciously said that Herzog has the charisma of a toaster). Nor is it some wild, spontaneous support for a dovish platform with regards to the Palestinians. In fact, Herzog and co. do their utmost best to hide their platform, and they succeed in that.

So, it is something else, and it first has to do with many Israelis' weariness over Netanyahu -- his personal style and his policy priorities. These are mostly Likudniks, who are usually a loyal voting population but are now showing indifference -- in fact, outright hostility -- to Netanyahu. The PM lost many points during the summer 2014 Gaza campaign, when he seemed to have displayed indecision, a lack of self-confidence and his actions zig-zagged by the day, with a final result that seemed far from satisfactory for many, including right-wingers. It is exactly the latter who question Netanyahu's sincerity and resolve about Iran, and even more so after his recent speech before Congress. The sense among many is that the bravado regarding Iran is mere rhetoric from the PM who vacillated so much over Gaza, and that he will prove unable to make good on his highly-publicized warnings. Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett say it loudly and clearly, and so Netanyahu's image of himself as a brave special operations soldier, as Mr. Security, is significantly shattered. Nevertheless, if the traditional built-in Likud advantage over Labor on security is vanishing, Netanyahu could still have another traditional Likud trump card: the sense of caring for the peripheries in the north and south of Israel -- areas which in previous campaigns were impregnable Likud strongholds. As it happens, this is no longer the case; the real electoral disaster awaiting Likud is among these very people, who defect in droves from their party to other parties of the right wing, and some even to Labor.

Netanyahu's party holds its rallies with big pictures of the great Menachem Begin behind the speaker of the day, but go and ask many ordinary Likudniks, and they will tell you that this ain't the Begin Likud.

The late leader was not the man of the elites and establishment, not even after signing the historic peace with Egypt, but he built an electoral coalition of nationalists, religious conservatives and the vast majority of the Sepharadic working class. Netanyahu is not trusted by many of the first two groups, and is increasingly resented by many of the latter group. He is resented by many young urban well-to-do professionals in the big cities for the exorbitant housing prices and the uneven distribution of the ever growing national wealth, and so while losing his traditional electoral coalition, he failed to cement a new one.

This is a recipe for an electoral loss in few days time, with the exception that according to the Israeli political system it is not necessarily the leader of the largest party who becomes the PM, but rather the head of a bloc of parties comprising 61 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu can still
be the leader of such a bloc, but this seems to be more and more elusive as the day of the election [17 March] approaches. And then there are the miracles... it is Israel after all.