Netanyahu’s crushing victory wasn’t so much over the Left, which never stood much of a chance to begin with. His true and ruthless triumph was over the Right, and especially over one man — his closest ally, Naftali Bennett.
It is difficult to describe Netanyahu’s victory in Tuesday’s elections as anything other than stunning. Stunning not so much for the fact that he had won — this much was reluctantly accepted among most observers throughout the election season. The true shock came as the sheer scope of Netanyahu’s victory was revealed – 30 seats to Herzog’s 24, dramatically strengthening the prime minister’s hand in coalition bargaining and reasserting him as Israel’s shrewdest and most brutal political operator. This victory was achieved not so much at the expense of the Left — indeed, very few seats moved from the “nationalist” to the “leftist” bloc. The real loser in these elections was Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s closest natural ally.
Of all the parties that went into these elections, Bennett arguably fared the worst, as far as distance between expectation and results is concerned. When the election was announced, Bennett’s Jewish Home was widely anticipated to gain as many as 17 to 19 seats, becoming the second or third largest party in the Knesset and bringing the settler movement a new level of mainstream legitimacy in Israel. The prospect attracted prominent public figures to the party, making it seem like the only one with any momentum in an initially dreary and uninspiring election season.
Bennett’s own goal
Reality, however, proved more mundane. Bennett was quickly hamstrung by his own comrades, who reminded him their party is composed of several factions — most of which are significantly more religious and conservative than the chair. The primary elections, despite Bennett’s best efforts, produced a remarkably stale and old-fashioned list of candidates, instantly stalling the momentum Bennett was enjoying at this point. Then, in a desperate bid to expand the party’s reach beyond the religious-nationalist settlements that were its primary base, Bennett reached out to an unlikely recruit — former football star Eli Ohana, a moderate Mizrahi Likudnik with no previous experience in politics. Despite his lack of experience, Ohana was offered the coveted 11th place on the slate, thought at the time to be safely electable, at the expense of many prominent new members who failed to obtain an electable seat in...Read More