As the Netanyahu era appears to be slowly entering its last phase, the question of who might replace him as prime minister has gone into higher gear, while fewer and fewer voices are being heard saying that he is irreplaceable.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s replacement could come from within the Likud, from one of the other coalition members, or from the opposition. It might be an established politician or a new face in politics.
It could be a former chief of staff, a former mayor, a former TV personality, or a former entrepreneur.
There are currently three former entrepreneurs, all of them known figures in Israeli politics, who view themselves as potential prime ministers.
The first is Naftali Bennett (45) of Bayit Yehudi, the second is Jerusalem mayor and Likud member Nir Barkat (57) and the third is Erel Margalit (56) of Labor. All three were successful entrepreneurs before entering politics, and all three made fortunes for themselves; I expect none of them need depend on “friends” to purchase expensive jewelry for their anonymous wives. All three served as officers in the IDF, though only Bennett considers himself a military expert.
Of the three Bennett is also the most congenial and straightforward, but he frequently seems to be too hasty in his political statements, as when he declared upon Donald Trump’s election victory in the US that Israel should take advantage of the situation and apply Israeli law to the “Jewish areas” in Judea and Samaria.
As education minister he has been inclined to push more religion down the throats of the secular population than the latter feel comfortable swallowing, and, in close cooperation with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, to actively weaken the liberal- democratic elements of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
None of this bodes well for the much required lowering of tensions among the various sectors of Israeli society.
It is not clear whether toward the next elections Bennett will try to soften the extreme right-wing image of Bayit Yehudi by terminating the partnership with Uri Ariel’s Tkuma Party.
Though it is hard to see the Bayit Yehudi emerging as Israel’s largest party, or even as its second or third largest party, there is no doubt Bennett is the first national religious leader who has managed to place himself in the eyes of the public as a serious contestant to the premiership.
Nir Barkat – a high-powered man with very little charisma – only recently joined the Likud, and has started preparing for the next Likud primaries for the Knesset list toward the elections to the 21st Knesset (in the mock-primaries held at the “Likudiada” part event in Eilat recently, he didn’t do well).
His record as mayor of Jerusalem is mixed. As a Jerusalemite I have no major complaints regarding my personal life in the city, but I am not sure whether this is because of Barkat or despite him.
My impression is that he has done a pretty good job in keeping a balance among the religious, traditional and secular sections of the Jewish population.
With regard to the city’s sanitation and cleanliness, I am more doubtful.
However, over two issues I have major concerns with regard to Barkat’s conduct, concerns that reflect on what one might expect of him as prime minister. The first is his filling the municipal apparatus up with his own henchmen, while there is insufficient money left for various municipal services. In a recent showdown with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Barkat was forced to step down, following Netanyahu’s intervention, and not before Jerusalem’s streets were filled with garbage and stench due to a municipal strike he had initiated.
The second issue concerns his insistence that the same law should apply to the Arabs in Jerusalem who build illegally as applies to the inhabitants of Amona, even though in both cases the true victims are the Palestinians. I would take Barkat more seriously on this issue if he were to make even a small effort to offer the Palestinian inhabitants of his city the same services that are offered to Jewish inhabitants, despite the objective constraints.
For ideological reasons my favorite among the three is Margalit, who is left of center and a social activist.
I do not know whether in the next Labor leadership primaries I shall vote for Erel. This will depend on the other candidates, and on what sort of coalitions he establishes within the party. So far he appears to be a soloist in a situation where it is more important to be a conductor. I was also not impressed by his rather aggressive recent self-promotion campaign (“kibinimat”), even though it expressed what many feel.
I am also not so sure how his current campaign for opening an investigation regarding Israel’s deals to purchase submarines and other vessels from the German company ThyssenKrupp, after he had personally collected quite a lot of incriminating evidence against those involved (apparently not including Netanyahu himself) – will affect his own image in the public. He remains somewhat of an enigma.
Though it is not clear whether any of the three will end up occupying the house on Balfour Street, they are all serious contenders to replace the “old lion.” And who knows – maybe an entrepreneur will cope more imaginatively with Israel’s problems of governability and ethical norms.