Who Rules Israel After Netanyahu?

Sooner or later Netanyahu’s term will end. A look at possible candidates who could be the next Prime Minister of Israel.

Who will sit in his seat next? (photo by Yonatan Sindel, Flash 90)

Despite the incessant efforts on the part of the Israeli Opposition, who are aided by interested parties in the Israeli media, it does not seem as if the attempts to unseat incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu will bear fruit anytime soon. His opponents have stooped to the spreading of insinuation over alleged crimes committed by Netanyahu. They are doing so because politically, their Chicken Little-esque doom and gloom warnings that the sky is about to fall on Israel’s economy, society, international standing and security under Netanyahu, fail miserably when evaluated objectively. The public has no interest in early elections and support for Netanyahu himself has not diminished among voters.

There is one thing though, working in their favor – Time. All things do eventually come to an end. No political career lasts for ever. Every leader is eventually replaced, regardless of his or her stature or greatness. In Israel’s political arena, Netanyahu’s term as prime minister has been momentous. His is the longest term in the history of the State of Israel. He is prime minister now for eight and a half years. It is twelve and a half years when counting his first term. So one could say with a degree of certainty, that Netanyahu is closer to the end of his career, although that could very well still be a few years away.

Whether that happens sooner or later, it raises a question who would possibly replace Netanyahu as prime minister, once he steps down? Identifying the person is clear speculation. Considering how volatile the region is, any number of unforeseen events could alter and affect the political landscape in Israel. For our purposes then, I will provide an assumption based on the political situation as it stands at the moment.

That being the case, at present there does not seem to be any serious challenge to the Likud/right wing/Orthodox coalition running the country. The left wing have been unable to offer the Israeli public a new vision to replace the failed concessions-for-peace/two-state-solution dogma of the past 30 years. Combined with the fact that the leaders chosen by the Labor party in the last few years are as charismatic as cottage cheese, you realize the possibility of a political transfer of power to the Labor party is a statistical improbability.

Many Israelis describe themselves as political centrists. Those disappointed with Labor yet incapable of voting for a right wing party, turn to what we in Israel call the “Mood” parties. The circumstances before an election very much determine the third party option. At the moment Yair Lapid offers that option and has shown staying ability, though not much more.

It seems then that the person to most likely succeed Netanyahu will come from within the ranks of his own Likud party. Seniority and stature of course come into play. So here are the people I believe have the best chances of being the next Prime Minister of Israel:

Honorable mention (mostly because they have mentioned themselves at one point or another) – Danny Danon, though successful as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, is still too young and inexperienced; Gideon Sa’ar, former Minister of the Interior and Minister of Education and senior member of Likud. Has taken a break from politics. Rumors of inappropriate behavior and his marriage to a leading newscaster in Israel have diminished his standing among hardcore Likud voters; Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, though consistently popular in the elections within Likud, has done nothing noteworthy in his government duties. Considered too cautious by Likud faithful and too “parve” as I have heard from some.

Any of the above mentioned may announce candidacy even if they understand their chances are slim and this is in order to elevate their positions inside the party. They have less of a chance among Likud voters than the next four. These are:

Israel Katz, Minister of Transportation. He did attempt a run in the past. He is very powerful in the Likud central committee. He perhaps lacks the charisma of other candidates but if you have been to Israel the last few years, you can see his signature all over the country. The developing of public transportation projects and modern highways, are all his doing.  A kinder, gentler, modern day version of Robert Moses. Israelis love “can-do” politicians and he has a proven record of having done, and still doing, the most. He lacks the security and diplomatic experience that Israelis look for in a potential leader. I assume he will not be elected but will establish himself as a major player the other candidates will seek an endorsement from.

Miri Regev, Minister of Culture. Arguably the most popular Knesset member among the Likud electorate. A classic “rags to riches” story that many Likud voters identify with. She comes from a traditional religious north African immigrant family, grew up in a small town in the south of Israel. Regev had a stellar military career and reached the rank of Brigadier General. I know her personally, as we worked together for quite a few years. She is highly intelligent, goal oriented, tireless and a great leader. She knows how to use media, is very shrewd with excellent political instincts. Her very deliberate public feud with the liberal cultural elite in Israel has solidified her position within the Likud. Her disadvantage is that she has not served in one of the premier cabinet positions yet and has little diplomatic experience. Regev may not be the immediate heir to Netanyahu but since she is younger than other candidates, she could be considered a future option.

Avi Dichter, Chairman of the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He has the security credentials Israelis feel comfortable with and the international experience from his days as the Director of the Israel Security Agency, better known as the Shabak. He ran the organization during the difficult period of Palestinian violence of 2000-2005. He is credited with the successful campaign against Hamas. He served as Minister of Public Security, one of the more senior cabinet positions. The son of Holocaust survivors he too grew up in the south, in Ashkelon which has one of the most ardent Likud bases. He is experienced and a well respected, honest politician. His disadvantage is that he was not originally with Likud but joined Ariel Sharon and the Kadima party. He has slowly built a support base in the Likud party though and while the quality of his character could give him an advantage over others, it could also be a liability in hardball politics.

Yuli Edelstein, the Chairman of the Knesset. One of the few politicians that literally no one has a bad word to say about. A former “Prisoner of Zion” dissident who spent time in the Soviet gulag and realized his dream of coming to Israel. A veteran of over twenty years experience in politics. Highly intelligent, strongly ideological and unusually honorable for a politician. When necessary though, he has shown very shrewd political instincts as witnessed when he outmaneuvered his rivals to capture the coveted seat of Knesset Chairman. This position has elevated him into a position of national leadership. His duties put him in the public eye and he has earned respect and admiration. Edelstein has positioned himself as a responsible and level headed leader. The Chairman of the Knesset is the third most important position in the official hierarchy of the State of Israel. That gives Edelstein an advantage over rivals. More importantly, he has enhanced that advantage through very calculated and well thought out activities intended to solidify his positive image in the eye of the public and media. Most of all, after the tumultuous years of Netanyahu, the public in general may look for a more unifying leader.

Whatever the fate of Netanyahu and whenever it is that his term comes to an end, it is clear from this that when the day comes, Israel does have a number of capable politicians to chose from as his successor.

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