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Israel's elections: It's all about the Benjamins, baby

13 84 936
25.03.2019

It's deja vu all over again in Israel's electoral politics, albeit with a few twists.

Three-star general Benjamin "Benny" Gantz is promising to unseat the mercurial Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu in the upcoming vote and change the political calculus of both Israelis and Palestinians. But how will this clash of the Benjamins differ from the political rivalries in any of the previous elections, where generals won the vote but lost the peace?

In the 1992 battle of the Yitzhaks, General Yitzhak Rabin won against Netanyahu's former boss, the incumbent Likud leader, Yitzhak Shamir, only to be assassinated three years later by a right-wing Jewish zealot, which allowed Netanyahu to secure his first electoral victory in 1996.

Three years later, another general named Ehud Barak revived hopes for Middle East peace by beating Netanyahu in the polls, but the Labor leader failed to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians the following year at the Camp David summit. That paved the way for six consecutive right-wing governments, starting with, yes, you guessed right it, another general, Ariel Sharon.

Opposition hopefuls argue, as they always do, that this time it is different. Defeating the indomitable but weakened leader of Likud will lead to the disintegration of the right, they say.

Some see in the imposing figure of Gantz a modern-day Israeli John Wayne, especially in his incarnation as Colonel Mike Kirby in the 1969 Hollywood epic (disaster), The Green Beret. Unlike the short, arrogant and loud Barak, Benny speaks softly and carries a big stick. He has embraced the wisdom of "the Duke": "Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much" and above all "never apologize; it a sign of weakness". Gantz not only does not apologise for his bloody past, but he actually boasts about it. His campaign videos are a reel of the mayhem and destruction he brought onto the Palestinians and Israel's Arab neighbours.

Gantz's Blue and White political alliance, which includes two other military chiefs, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya'alon, has been leading in the polls. It is more representative of Israelis than the eclipsing Labor Party, which lost its allure and influence a long time ago.

Blue and White supporters say this election presents an historic opportunity to deal Netanyahu a final blow that would knock him out of Israel's political scene. Hounded by charges of corruption and imminent indictment, Netanyahu is the weakest he's been in a long time. His lies and deception have finally caught up with him.

An electoral defeat for the Likud leader, who dominates the government as prime, defence and foreign minister, is bound to fracture his party, bring down the delicate coalition of right-wing fanatics he had forged, and shatter the Israeli right as a whole. In other words, unseating Netanyahu, "the king of Israel", will undo his entire regime and pave the way for new politics in Israel.

Or at least so the opposition hopes.

Not so fast, say the sceptics.

Netanyahu & co insist that they still command huge popular support, despite the indictments. He emphasises his unparalleled experience among peers, especially in comparison to his rival Benny, whose political career has only just begun.........

© Al Jazeera