Netanyahu headed for fifth term

EPA-EFE//ABIR SULTAN

Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with supporters as he tours the Mahane Yehuda market with his wife during the final stage of his election campaign in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu headed for fifth term


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Incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has led his country for a decade, has secured a fifth term in office for his Likud party after his main rival, Benny Gantz, the former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, conceded that his Blue and White alliance did not have enough support to form a coalition that would see a centrist government in power in Israel for the first time in almost two decades.

Netanyahu’s victory came about largely due to his ability to form an alliance with Israel’s extreme right-wing and many of its radical religious parties, both of whom are bitter opponents of the liberal Zionism of the Blue and White coalition and whose voter base is more closely aligned with the secularism of David Ben-Gurion that formed the basis of the founding principals of the State of Israel when it first gained independence in 1948.

Both parties had about 27% of the vote. But the right-wing and religious bloc, of which Likud is a part, won a combined 53%. Likud will have 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, while the left-wing and centrist parties will have 55 seats.

By securing a fifth term, Netanyahu becomes the long-serving Israeli prime minister since Ben-Gurion, whose premiership extended for two separate stretched between 1948-1963.

Netanyahu will, however, begin his next, fourth consecutive turn in office under a cloud of controversy as he will still be under investigation for corruption and abuse of power. More pressing for the incoming government will be how it handles the rising tensions between Iran and its terrorist allies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, as well as the ongoing civil war in neighbouring Syria.

During the campaign, Netanyahu crusaded against the centre-left secularists that had dominated Israeli politics for the first four decades of the country’s existence. His demonising of the Palestinian population has left few with the belief that Netanyahu has any intention of pursuing negotiations for a two-state solution that could potentially end the 70-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With a new term, it remains to be seen which direction Netanyahu will turn when forming his next government. He could look to form an even larger right-wing coalition than his previous terms in office. These would include far-right Zionists, the ultra-Orthodox, and extreme nationalist lawmakers from Israel’s sizable Russian-speaking Soviet and American immigrant populations

Going forward, a key sticking point in Netanyahu’s relationship with the US is that his brand of Israeli nationalism is often at odds with majority of American Jews, most of whom have a less stringent view of the Palestinian issue and who are less drawn to the far-right chauvinism that Netanyahu has courted since he opted to align with the decidedly more fringe elements of Israel’s political spectrum.

That leaves Netanyahu with the option of having to draw a significant amount of support in the US from fundamentalist Evangelical Christian groups who have little to no understanding of modern Israel, but who see the government, i.e. Netanyahu, as spiritual allies, though the overwhelming majority of Israeli society finds the Evangelical interpretation of what Israel is to be, at best, wildly unhinged.

Barring any significant shift in his approach to Europe, Netanyahu’s government’s will focus its attention on forge closer ties to the Eurosceptic, right-wing governments in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, who share an illiberal world view that aligns closely with Netanyahu’s.

Netanyahu will, most likely, continue his close cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and several of the other Arab States who see Israel under Netanyahu, much as they view the US under Donald J. Trump, as a key ally against Iran.

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