Netanyahu’s other strategic error was the decision to focus Likud energies and resources in the elections on trashing Bennett, the young rising star of the anti-Oslo camp. Two months before the election, Bennett and his Jewish Home party were the talk of the town and had the Likud running scared, and the leftist media running even more scared.
Netanyahu’s people falsely characterized Bennett as running a party of fringe fanatics, women haters, crackpots plotting to blow up the Temple Mount mosques. The conscripted media followed his lead and, to a point, it worked. Bennett was polling as many as eighteen seats in some polls weeks before the election, but as a result of the demonization he ended up with twelve. (This is still a remarkable achievement for someone who took over a party that had been polling before his leadership two or three seats.) But the strategy did not win the Likud any support.
The Likud’s more harmful long-term error is that it has always exhibited a fear of governing once it is in office. Netanyahu is timid and makes his daily decisions based on public opinion polls. Among other missteps, he came out in favor of a Palestinian state, froze settlement construction, appointed left-wing judicial activist judges to the Supreme Court and a left-wing attorney general and did nothing to dislodge the left from its hegemony over state-run electronic media.
Nevertheless, the combination of Likud, Lieberman and Bennett now has forty-three Knesset seats, and Lapid’s party likely will join them to form the governing coalition. All the media commentary about the implosion of the Israeli right, like Mark Twain’s erroneous death notice, was glaringly premature.