Never a dull moment in Israeli politics in the best of times, and surely these days, as the politicians and the general public count the days to 17th of March 2015, when the 20th Knesset will be elected. P.M Netanyahu is in the eye of the storm, and like this blog predicted it is glowingly the case, that the veteran, shrewd politician, rather than outsmarting his rivals may have outsmarted himself.
Three developments happening today, may indicate that the P.M is in big trouble.
The first, and the more episodic one has to do with the decision of the Likud party
internal comptroller to prevent Netanyahu from running in the Likud party primaries, thus basically preventing him from being reelected, allegedly for violations of the Likud own primary regulations. This decision will be turned around, and Netanyahu will be able to run, but the fact that the party's own comptroller has the guts to publicly humiliate the P.M is a clear sign of Netanyahu's dwindling popularity, even in his own party.
Rule number one of every polity, Israel's included, is that a leader should go to elections being assured of the support of his own political hard core, which is not the case this time.
Netanyahu got another unpleasant reminder of that rule, when it was announced, that former Ambassador in the US, Michael Oren, a personal confidant of the P.M, a prominent historian and intellectual, close to the American Neo-Cons by virtue of his overall conservative approach, is joining the Kulanu [we are all] party, led by Moshe Kachlon, himself another former confidant of Netanyahu, who left the party in order to reassert the ''true'' Likud. By this he refers to the party led by the legendary Menachem Begin, which according to Kachlon was ready for concessions to Israel's Arab neighbors, as opposed to Netanyahu's alleged refusal to do good on his own public endorsement of the two states solution. As well as being much more socially-oriented towards the poor, the traditional electoral backbone of Likud.
Kachlon is a real political challenge to Netanyahu, as he tries to portray himself in a way which could be appealing to many disenfranchised Likud voters. Likud has always relied on the near tribalistic loyalty of many of his Sepharadic voters [Jews from Arab and Muslim countries], and Kachlon, being himself a Sepharadic Jew is capable of convincing voters , that voting for him does not amount to a betrayal of Likud, rather it is a correction vote. Oren personally is not considered a vote getter, but his departure from the Netanyahu camp will intensify the impression that Netanyahu is heading towards a defeat. Then something else happened today, which may be bad news for the besieged P.M, and this is the flareup in Gaza. Usually, military tension before elections is good news for a sitting Israeli P.M , but not this time, as the memories of the Israeli public over the recent round of fighting with Hamas are still fresh. I ,for one, do not believe that an overall eruption is behind the door, but the situation is volatile, and the P.M claiming victory in the summer will not be able to convince the electorate that this was the case, if hostilities will resume during the campaign.
So, where does it all leave us? Is Netanyahu heading towards a sure defeat? Too early to predict, and a sitting P.M has a lot of power to change things particularly now, when his government [or what is left of it], cannot be voted down in the Knesset, but he is in real trouble. Even a superficial look at current polls show,that he may still be able to form a new coalition after the 17th of March elections, but imagine a new government, with Naftali Bennett as Defense Minister, Oren as Foreign Minister and Kachlon as Minister of the treasury. A Netanyahu government?, Maybe by name only... a remote possibility ? Not really, a very likely one, and it all leads to the initial question as to why did Netanyahu push for new elections? It is too late for him to reverse the situation, but being Netanyahu, we can still expect surprises. It is going to be VERY interesting, EVEN in Israeli terms.