In the spring of 1996, with Israelis still mourning the late Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres locked in a tough race for prime minister with Benjamin Netanyahu, I quipped to my friend and colleague Dennis Ross in one of the worst political predictions of the modern era: There's no way Bibi can win this thing. He can't be prime minister of the state of Israel.
Seventeen years later, Netanyahu has now served for more years as Israeli prime minister than anyone other than David Ben Gurion, and though much weakened by this week's elections, is about to begin coalition negotiations toward an unprecedented third term.
But looking at the Israeli press this morning, you'd think that he's already toast. "'King Bibi,'" writes columnist Bradley Burston, "has managed to plummet to victory in a technical triumph that has every appearance of a debacle." Bibi's campaign failed, the inestimable Aluf Benn writes in Haaretz, because he had nothing much to say.
They're both right, of course. The election results in Israel were a clear defeat for the right, a non-victory for the left, a clear affirmation that there is a center in Israel, and an indication that many Israelis are indeed looking past Netanyahu for something new.