Is Netanyahu losing his grip on Israel?

by Gideon

Benjamin Netanyahu, or Bibi as he is called by most Israelis, has been in power for so long that it seems that he owns the position of prime minister and that no one in Israel can take it away from him. However, Netanyahu didn’t really have a convincing majority in recent elections in Israel:

In 2009, the  Likud party headed by Netanyahu actually lost the election to Tzipi Livni.  Netanyahu became the prime minister only because of his superb political negotiation skills, leaving Livni no choice but to concede that she was unable to assemble a majority coalition, and by doing so, turning over the power to Netanyahu.

In 2013 the Likud party won 23% of the Israeli votes. This means that the vast majority of Israelis (77%) did not vote for Netanyahu. He made significant concessions to his coalition partners to keep his position as the Israeli prime minister.

The coalition that he assembled was unstable:

Netanyahu was forced to assemble a coalition that did not include his traditional partners; the Haredi parties. His new partners were the secular parties, which pushed him into a direction that he didn’t want to go, according  to Israeli media. Netanyahu felt that his partners were trying to unseat him, so he dispersed the government in 2015 in hope for better results in a new general election.  

In the last Israeli election in 2015, once again, Benjamin Netanyahu’s party the Likud won only  23% of the votes. The results weren’t better for the Likud than they were in the 2013 election. However, his “untrusted” former coalition partners lost some of their supporters and could no longer force Netanyahu into making concession he didn’t want to make.

Along the way, Netanyahu systematically removed from power dominant leaders within his own Likud party, leaders that he thought may challenge and threaten him one day. Some of the more known Likud leaders who may be motivated to look for ways to replace him are:

Naftali Bennet, the leader of the Jewish Home party, who is in Netanyahu’s coalition and constantly challenges Natanyahu, was once in the Likud  party. According to Israeli newspapers, Bennet sees himself as Netanyau’s future replacement.

Moshe Kachlon, the leader of the Kulanu party, who is in Netanyahu’s coalition, was once in the Likud  party. He is now a popular Israeli leader in his own rights. He may return to the Likud one day as the leader.

Gideon Sa’ar, one of the Likud senior leaders who according to the media was pushed out of politics by Netanyahu at the peak of his popularity and political career. He’ll have many supporters if and when he decides to come back.

Gilad Erdan won the second place after Netanyahu in the last Likud internal election. Erdan had hard time accepting Netanyahu’s offer to join the government. He had to swallow his pride and accept the position of  Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Minister of Information, which are less prestigious than a Foriegn Minister, Finance Minister, or Defense minister that he wanted.

Moshe Yaalon, a Likud Member and the previous Minister of Defense, was forced out of the Israeli government by Netanyahu, in order to make room in the coalition for Avigdor Liberman’s party. Following his resignation, Yaalon stated that he’ll challenge Netanyahu in future elections.

Earlier this month Netanyahu failed in his attempt to push out of the government the very popular Likud minister Yisrael Katz,  the Minister of Transportation and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy. In this case a crisis was manufactured to discredit Katz:

A routine work on the railroad on a Saturday, became a major crisis within the coalition between religious and secular parties. It caused a complete shutdown of trains on the following Sunday; the busiest day of the week, when many soldiers return to their bases.

Netanyahu was on the verge of firing Katz when strong opposition within his party forced him to reconsider the move.

50% of the Israelis surveyed, blamed the shutdown of the trains on Netanyahu.

No one is fooled to think that the infighting in the Likud is over, and that Katz is safe. He may try to challenge Netanyahu before he loses the opportunity. 

If it wasn’t enough that Netanyahu faces growing challenges by his own coalition partners, and that leaders within his own party are dissatisfied and look for opportunity to advance, a survey in Israel this week showed that if the election were held today. Yair Lapid, the leader of an opposition party would have won the election.

Is Netanyahu losing his ability to play his opponents against each other to stay in power?

Are the Israeli voters getting ready to make a change?

We will know soon enough.

The headline in YNET showing Lapid leading in the pole: