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Israel's Election Results

Netanyahu Stages Historic Comeback

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11 Apr 2019 (All day)
Israel's Election Results

It was vintage ‘Bibi’. For the third time in his record five election victories, Israelis went to bed thinking Benjamin Netanyahu was vanquished only to awaken the next morning to discover he was their prime minister once more.

It first happened in 1996, when Netanyahu was trailing badly in the late night returns before narrowly eclipsing Shimon Peres by 30,000 votes come morning. It occurred again in 2015 when evening exit polls had the National Union edging Likud, before the official tally showed Netanyahu handily winning by six Knesset seats. Even in 2009, when Kadima bested Likud by one seat, it took a few days but Netanyahu still managed to outmanoeuvre Tzipi Livni and secure the premiership.

His apparent victory in the Israeli elections on April 9th was equally dramatic – especially given the opposing forces arrayed against him. For starters, he was facing indictment by the Attorney General in three corruption probes. The Israeli media had turned decidedly against him. And three former IDF chiefs-of-staff banded together in a bid to topple Netanyahu, calculating that their collective military credentials would neutralise his advantage as “Mr. Security”.

Yet Netanyahu managed to shock the nation and the world – and himself to some extent – by scoring what looks to be an historic fifth term in the Prime Minister’s Office. With this triumph, Netanyahu has achieved legendary status as modern Israel’s most victorious and longest-serving premier – surpassing the nation’s founding leader David Ben-Gurion’s four victories and 13 years in office.

The close election results, with the two central parties splitting the lion’s share of the ballots, indicated the campaign indeed boiled down to a referendum on Netanyahu. The three IDF generals, led by Benny Gantz, united with Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid faction to form the upstart Blue & White list, with the sole agenda to send Bibi packing. The new alignment did not really denounce his economic or security policies, and even acknowledged his competence in running the country and his adept handling of foreign affairs. Rather, they criticized his “divisiveness” and sense of entitlement after holding power for so long.

Netanyahu did upset many Israelis, and a wide swathe of American Jews as well, by repeatedly bowing to the ultra-Orthodox parties on Western Wall prayers and Haredi draft exemptions, all just to stay in power. He also drew complaints for legitimizing the anti-Arab Kahanist party on the far-right.

But his recent accomplishments, most notably on the world stage, also gave many voters added confidence in his leadership. In the weeks before the election, Netanyahu was invited to Washington by US President Donald Trump, who handed him a timely political boost by recognising Israeli sovereignty on the Golan. He was then hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and returned with the long-sought remains of Zachary Baumel, an IDF soldier missing in Lebanon for the past 37 years.

Certainly, there is no other aspiring Israeli leader at present who could pull off such remarkable diplomatic feats. Thus, in the waning days of the campaign, Netanyahu and his Likud party picked up a lot of extra voters on the Right, at the expense of some of the smaller conservative factions. Even so, the right-of-centre bloc will hold 65 seats in the new Knesset, giving Netanyahu the clearest path to head the next government. But his “natural” partners on the Right will each try to exact a price for their cooperation during the upcoming talks to forge a ruling coalition.

For example, he will need support from Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, who triggered this election by bolting the last government due to Netanyahu’s perceived ‘weakness’ towards Hamas in Gaza. Lieberman has also never relished dragging his secular Russian immigrant party into a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox factions Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Netanyahu also must rely on the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which is staunchly pro-settlement and could insist he keep his promise, made in desperation late in the campaign, to annex parts of Judea/Samaria. Yet, such a move would likely undermine the roll-out of the long-awaited Trump peace plan and complicate relations with a very friendly US president.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu must fend off the threat of indictment hanging over his head. The parties on the Right are reportedly prepared to stand by him as prime minister until he is actually convicted of a crime. But another alternative could eventually present itself by way of a national unity government with Blue and White, if they are willing to protect him from being removed from office so long as he is pursuing a viable US-led peace process with the Palestinians.

So the uncertainties abound. Will Netanyahu manage to cobble together a stable coalition government one more time? How long will he be able to stave off the pending indictments for bribery and fraus? And will he accept and implement the Trump peace plan, or will he instead annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank?

Israel's 2019 elections may be over, but do stay tuned! There is still much drama ahead in the continuing saga of Israel's  legendary leader, Bibi Netanyahu.

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2019 Election Results
Likud: 36
Blue and White: 35
Shas: 8
United Torah Judaism: 7
Labour: 6
Hadash-Ta’al: 6
Union of Right-Wing Parties: 5
Yisrael Beiteinu: 5
Kulanu: 4
Meretz: 4
Ra’am Balad: 4
 

*Photo courtesy of the Times of Israel

 

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