Livni-Herzog Axis Powered Sheetrit Challenge

Reuven Rivlin (L) with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a day after winning the election for president.   (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Reuven Rivlin (L) with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a day after winning the election for president. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The implications of Tuesday’s presidential election goes far beyond the question of whose smiling face greets the dignitaries from around the world who come to visit Yerushalayim over the next seven years.

Notwithstanding Reuven Rivlin’s victory, Meir Sheetrit’s surprisingly strong second-round challenge to the frontrunner reflected a behind-the-scenes shifting of political forces that may soon be played out center stage.

According to an analysis published on Wednesday in The Times of Israel, “Sheetrit’s ascent from a distant fourth place in the five-candidate race was not an accident. It was a carefully planned and well-executed maneuver by an opposition that has shown a growing capacity to unite and mobilize its disparate parts to cause trouble for the coalition.”

The name of the new force to be reckoned with in Israeli politics is Livni-Herzog. In this scenario, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog teamed up to “deliver 33 votes for a candidate who had been polling, according to the best estimates, at barely 10 MKs.”

This was accomplished by harvesting votes previously promised to Dalia Itzik, who was eliminated in the first round, and capitalizing on splintered loyalties within the Likud. (In fact, a few Likud activists close to Netanyahu were seen campaigning against Rivlin during the runoff round.)

For Netanyahu, the election outcome signals not only a growing threat from the opposition, but from within his own Likud party as well.

Netanyahu’s stubborn efforts to derail the Rivlin candidacy generated considerable anger in the Likud at a perceived betrayal of one of their own. Had Rivlin lost, it would have given a major boost to the opposition and triggered a furious internal row wihin the Likud.

As it is, Netanyahu finds himself in a most uncomfortable position. Personal feelings aside, if that is possible, Rivlin’s win solidifies an alliance with Interior Minister Gideon Saar, a key supporter and a rival of Netanyahu’s for leadership of the Likud and a contender for prime minister.

The most significant non-ceremonial function of the president is to designate who will be tasked with forming a coalition after elections. The close connection between Rivlin and Saar could spell trouble for Netanyahu.

So it seems that the biggest loser in this election was not Meir Sheetrit or Dalia Itzik, but Binyamin Netanyahu. The loss of prestige he suffered by trying to thwart a well-liked member of his own party is already evident.

Individuals and parties within the coalition no longer fear to defy Netanyahu and dissent from his policies. Senior members of Likud are reportedly discussing the post-Netanyahu era and who will lead it.

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