Netanyahu Poised to Become Prime Minister (Again)
Photo: By Matty STERN / U.S. Embassy Jerusalem (This file has been extracted from another file, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106635210)
This week, 4.8 million (71.3% of voters) Israelis, much higher than expected, went to the polls for the 5th time in three years, and 73-year-old Benjamin Netanyahu will once again become Israel’s prime minister—taking the reins for the sixth time since the mid-1990s.
Netanyahu’s Likud party garnered 32 seats in the Knesset, far short of the 61-seat majority needed to form a government. No prime minister in Israel’s history has ever risen to power without being in a coalition of parties. So, as anticipated, Netanyahu has made alliances with three conservative and far-right parties—Shas, United Torah Judaism, and the Religious Zionist party.
The Likud party will be the largest faction in the Knesset, but much of the national and international attention is on the rise of the Religious Zionist faction. The leaders of this group—Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir—are viewed as racists by many Israelis and by much of the international community. Ben Gvir, who heads the Otzma Yehudit faction in the Religious Zionist party, was barred from IDF service for his extremist activities and views. For many years he had a picture of Baruch Goldstein hanging in his office, who murdered 29 Palestinians in a mosque in 1994. Ben Gvir has skyrocketed from being the leader of a fringe group to being the voice for 10 percent of Israeli voters. Israeli pundits have declared him the unequivocal winner of the elections.
Netanyahu, needing more votes from the right, sought to rehabilitate his reputation in the past few years and has now created a Frankenstein tight figure that he may have difficulty controlling. Just a few years ago, no one would ever have dreamed that this man would even be in the Knesset, now he is poised to become a cabinet member.
“Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism, said he wants to be the minister of internal security, a post that would put him in charge of the Israeli police and policies around Jerusalem's holy sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.” (Axios)
The Religious Zionist faction runs on pro-Jewish/anti-Arab sentiments. They want to see Israel “return” to being a Jewish state, leaving many concerned about the future of Arab Israelis’ rights.
The US has warned Netanyahu to tread carefully in his partnership with the far-right group, and regional ally, the United Arab Emirates, has also expressed concern.
On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States hopes the next Israeli government (referring to Netanyahu) would respect “the values of an open, democratic society,” including minorities.
“We hope that all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of an open, democratic society, including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, particularly for minority groups,” Price said.
While Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s party won 24 seats in the Knesset—the most his party has ever received, there was no clear path to form a governing alliance. One reason is that he cherry picked votes from the left-wing parties, by moving to the left during the campaign season. The result is that the far left party Meretz, did not even past the foresee threshold, and is not even in the Knesset for the first time in since 1992. On Thursday evening, Lapid called Netanyahu to concede the contest and offer his congratulations.
“The State of Israel is above any political considerations,” Lapid said. “I wish Netanyahu good luck for the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”
A look at the actual vote count shows that less than half of Israelis (48%) voted for the right-wing government that will take power under Netanyahu. This is because the way our voting system works is that you cast your vote for a party, but if that party fails to reach a certain threshold (four seats) of votes, then they do not get a seat in parliament. So, for instance, not only did Meretz fail to pass the threshold, but the Arab nationalist party Balad will also not be in the Knesset, which accounted for 275,000 votes that would gone to far left and Arab bloc.
Netanyahu’s return to power comes while he is still on trial for three corruption analysts say that even if he is convicted, the appeals process could drag out for three to five years.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog will most likely meet with Netanyahu and Lapid next week and decide which man gets the official nod to form a government. Herzog has until November 16 to make his recommendation, but since Lapid has conceded, it may be a very quick process—more of a technicality than serious negotiations. Netanyahu and his team are expected to work out the details of his new coalition government over the next couple of weeks, so he can be ready to assume his duties as prime minister shortly after that.
There will still be some haggling over policy goals and cabinet positions, as Netanyahu promises he will try to serve the interests of all three factions in his coalition. Already though, it seems likely that many of the reforms (such as those to the kosher food system) put into place by the Unity Coalition government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid will be reversed right away.
It’s unlikely, so unlikely that I have not heard one is really pundit speak about it, but it is possible that Netanyahu will hear the warnings in the United States and some of our new friends in the Arab world, and instead form a coalition with Lapid and Benny Gantz. Gantz’s party won 11 seats. Gantz and Lapid in the past have refused to work with Netanyahu, over what they feel a trail of broken promises. However, to keep the far right extremist party out of the government, I would hope they would reconsider.
Of course that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu would be willing to work with them. By sticking with the far right Religious Zionists, he has people who are willing to pass legislation that will keep him out of jail. That’s a strong motivation, but it is also a compromised position. His task is to do what is best for the country, not himself.
This more or less means that Netanyahu will be sorely tempted to give both Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the party, and Ben Gvir, high ranking positions. Bezalel wants to be defense minister!
I believe that our political system needs desperate reforms, where we vote for prime minister, and not parties. Let the winner of that election form a cabinet from the people he chooses to work with, not rival parties that he has to horse trade with to form a coalition, which leads to blackmail and corruption. Then, we have a separate election where we vote for parties to fill out the Knesset.