Aged 70, Benjamin Netanyahu is in rude political health, having just won his Likud Party its best ballot-box showing since 2003.
It was as if his indictment on three corruption charges in November 2019 spurred him on. Easily overcoming a Likud leadership challenge in December, he set about the country in his ever-effective campaign-mode, convincing the doubters and turbo-charging the faithful.
The result came on Monday: 36 seats out of a possible 120.
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister may still be beaten by legalities, if not by the opposition.
His trial is due to begin in less than two weeks’ time. If the judges, justices and attorney-general rule that no sitting PM can serve while under indictment, it could be game-over for the ultimate political survivor.
It is the stuff of scripts, yet Jewish News was in Israel this week soaking up the election atmosphere, and despite the high turnout, most we spoke to felt decidedly “meh” about it all.
We heard repeatedly that “nothing will change”. In part, this acknowledged that Israel’s main opposition would continue most Netanyahu policies. In part, it was a dread that the familiar laboured, tortured, doomed-to-fail process of unity government negotiations would now start all over again.
Many were angry – every election costs money. Businesses either close or have to pay their staff double. With three in 11 months, it soon adds up.
Whereas in the UK we say “third time lucky”, in Israel they say “third time ice-cream” (it stems from a saying that if two friends meet each other on the street three times by chance they have to go and get an ice-cream together). As many Israelis told us on Monday, they were hoping for “third time ice-cream”.
Alas, it seems they were not so lucky.
What next? It’s ‘as we were’ in April 2019. In the lead-up to this week’s vote, one cheeky commentator posted online that the “definition of stupidity is asking Israeli voters the same question three times and expecting a different answer”. Most expect to be asked again.
If anything, the situation may now be shaped by Netanyahu’s trial. Meanwhile the Israeli news agenda will almost certainly return to fears about the coronavirus, for which – like the Israeli political stalemate – there is as yet no cure.