The most tedious question in Israeli politics is: ‘Will this be the end of Benjamin Netanyahu?’ It has come up again in recent weeks as Israel has found itself on the brink of chaos over his coalition government’s attempts to pass laws weakening the independence of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. And while the civilian unrest is unprecedented in the country’s history, anyone who has spent even a moderate amount of time observing Israel in the past decades should know by now that the answer, as long as Netanyahu is still breathing, is ‘no’.
At 73, and after more than 40 years in public life, his lust for power and sense of destiny remain unquenchable. He is still a far more indefatigable and creative campaigner than any of his rivals. In Likud he has a party that has never deposed its leader. And the coalition he has built of far-right and ultra-religious parties does not have anyone else it believes can lead it to election victories.
Not that Netanyahu wins every election. Despite his self-cultivated magician-winner image, his track record is far from perfect. He has led Likud in eleven general elections, won five, lost three and drawn three. It’s his resilience in coming back from defeat and holding on in stalemate that have made him Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, as much as his victories at the ballot box. I was once present when a non-Israeli journalist told him that David Cameron had promised not to serve more than two terms in Downing Street and asked whether he also had plans to retire at some point. The look of sheer incomprehension on Netanyahu’s face was almost comical. Relinquishing power voluntarily is a foreign concept to him.