With former-PM Naftali Bennett out, Bibi is poised for the ultimate comeback.
It was July 17, 2019, and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters were celebrating a tremendous milestone: Netanyahu had officially become the longest-serving PM in Israel’s history.
In those halcyon days, everything seemed to be going Netanyahu’s way: Israel’s start-up tech companies were quickly becoming the envy of the world; Israel’s tech scene was producing wildly lucrative and successful products like the city-navigation essential, Waze.
For Israeli scientists, the long, arduous journey to becoming the world’s foremost authority on water desalinization was nearly complete.
Under Bibi’s leadership (according to his supporters) or merely on his watch (according to his political opponents) Israel’s Middle Eastern neighbors were finally beginning to thaw. The looming threat of a nuclear Iran, in addition to the rising number of terrorist operations being funded in the region, drove countries like Bahrain, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.
Egypt and Jordan, the only other two regional powers to have normalized ties with Israel, both did so decades ago. Egypt formally recognized Israel in 1979; Jordan in 1994.
“This will be a very warm peace,” said Netanyahu in a statement at the time. “The light of peace on this Hanukkah day has never shone brighter than today in the Middle East.”
It was well-known and accepted in those days that another of region’s major powerhouses, Saudi Arabia, had to have given its tacit approval for the thaw and would, eventually, join the newly-formed Abraham Accords.
It seemed clear Middle Eastern nations were beginning to accept that the fight against regional radicals and terrorists could not be won without the full cooperation and aid of Israel.
In those days, Netanyahu was also boasting of his close diplomatic relationship with then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who did in fact take an exceptionally strong stance in support of Israel while in office.
Just when Netanyahu seemed on-track to win his next reelection bid, everything changed.
COVID had hit the world, and the world was only just beginning to glimpse a shadow of what, “two-weeks to slow the spread,” would mean for the next 2.5 years- and counting.
Tying his political fortunes so closely to Donald Trump might not have helped much, as Trump lost his bid for reelection in November of 2020.
By June 16, 2021, Benjamin Netanyahu was out, with newly-elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett emerging victorious to captain the ship of Israel through the challenges of COVID19 and economic upheavals to come.
From the very start, however, Bennett’s hold on power was tenuous- at best.
“Honored ladies and gentlemen, this is a special moment: The moment in which the baton of leading the people and the country passes — as in a relay race — to the next generation,” newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Bennett gushed in his first speech to the Knesset. “It’s a sacred endowment.”
It was a good thing PM Bennett published a transcript of his inaugural speech; it was practically inaudible in real-time, drowned out as it was by boos and yells from the assembled crowd of Israeli lawmakers.
It was a very good speech, during which Bennett called Israel, “the dream of generations of Jews- from Marrakesh to Budapest, from Bagdad to San Francisco- a dream we merited to see realized every day before our very eyes.”
“The external challenges we face are great: the Iranian nuclear project, which is moving towards a crucial point; the ongoing war on terror; Israel’s image in the world and the unfair treatment it receives in international institutions — these are all sizable and complex tasks,” Bennett told the booing Knesset.
“The greatest threat to Israel, the Iranian nuclear project, is reaching a critical point,” Bennett warned at the time. “The Middle East is still yet to recover from the effects of the first nuclear deal, which emboldened Iran to the tune of billions of dollars, and with international legitimacy.”
“Iran, through its Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, has established terrorist outposts — from Syria, through Gaza and Lebanon, and to Yemen,” Bennett reminded the crowd. “Renewing the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will once again lend legitimacy to one of the most discriminatory and violent regimes in the world.”
“At this time, we are also facing an internal challenge,” Bennett warned presciently. “The ongoing rift in the nation, as we see in these very moments, which continues to rip apart the seams that hold us together, and has thrown us — one election after another — into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting.”
“Each generation has its own challenges,” the new PM said at the time. “And out of those challenges, and out of each generation comes the leaders that can overcome them.”
Alas, for Naftali Bennett, it wasn’t to be.
Only one year later, Israel is indeed headed for yet another contentious election- its fifth election in three years and a first in Israel’s history. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition government has officially collapsed and, in direct opposition to his predecessor, Bennett will end his term as the shortest-serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history.
The spectacular rise and fall of Naftali Bennett has led to a renewed sense of interest in the revived political prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is enjoying a surge in popularity, according to the current polls, and might, theoretically, even be able to muster enough support to form the majority government he was unable to patch together in 2021.
Bennett’s government, upside down in the polls, has been flailing in the face of the Netanyahu-led opposition since first picking up the gauntlet a year ago. Bennett’s government has been bleeding support in the Knesset. Even some of Bennett’s own party members have abandoned him.
With the failure of Bennett imminent, his Alternate Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, will assume the office of Prime Minister until a new election is held later this year.
“The country needs to continue functioning,” Lapid said in a statement. “We still need to address matters like the high cost of living and the threat from Iran.”
That is, unless Bibi manages to forge a new coalition government within the next few days.
While the possibility may seem remote, Netanyahu is perhaps one of the few veteran politicians with the experience to make it happen.
“This is an evening of great news for the majority of the citizens of Israel,” said the once and perhaps future Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in response to the collapse of Bennett’s coalition government. “Following a focused fight by the opposition in the Knesset and great suffering of the Israeli public, it is clear to everyone that the most failed government in this country’s history has ended.”
If Netanyahu does manage to stage a successful comeback over the next week, Alternate-turned-Prime Minister Yair Lapid will replace Bennett as the shortest-serving Israeli PM in history.
If not, Netanyahu might get another opportunity to retake control of the country’s highest office when elections are held in late October, in which case Lapid would still become shortest-serving PM.
To successfully accomplish this feat, Netanyahu might need a minor miracle. To successfully right Israel’s ship of national security and economic prosperity, Netanyahu might need a second.
Benjamin Netanyahu has accomplished the seemingly impossible before in his long career: Can he really do so again?
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)