Why you should care
Netanyahu may not have won a majority, but he’ll likely continue to serve — buoyed by a far-right coalition.
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WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Yesterday’s election in Israel was initially too close to call, with both Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, 69, and his challenger, centrist Benny Gantz (pictured), 59, claiming victory. Each of their parties is expected to take 35 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, but Gantz has conceded defeat in the race for power. Any leader needs 61 seats for a majority, so this will come down to coalition-building.
Why does it matter? Netanyahu is far better positioned to build a coalition. The right wing, which includes Netanyahu’s Likud party, is forecast to win 65 seats, which likely means Bibi will have a fifth term as prime minister. If he stays in office through mid-July, he’ll beat former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s record of 13 years and 127 days in power. Overall, yesterday was a huge victory for the right, with ultra-Orthodox groups Shas and United Torah Judaism each winning an unprecedented eight seats.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
It’s a self-preservation thing. Israel’s attorney general has recommended that Netanyahu be charged with multiple offenses, including corruption and bribery. If he stays in power, he’ll have an easier time beating that rap — and is likely to cite the public vote as evidence of a mandate despite his legal troubles. He’s also expected to seek immunity in exchange for power for allies he brings into his coalition.
“Best friend” Trump can celebrate. Netanyahu’s expected return to power — with more seats than the 30 Likud held in the outgoing Knesset — will also strengthen the hands of U.S. President Donald Trump in his bid to ratchet up pressure on Iran. Without Bibi, Trump would have lost his biggest global ally in seeking to turn Iran into a pariah state, by undermining its economy and security apparatus. Now they can continue to tag-team toward that goal.
The other side won’t mind either. With Netanyahu’s expected return, the prospects of a two-state solution look dimmer than ever. Bibi has promised to begin annexations of West Bank territories. With hopes of a politically negotiated settlement acceptable to Palestinians dashed, the militant group Hamas could emerge as a major beneficiary. Its argument that peaceful talks lead nowhere with Israel will appear more credible to many young Palestinians.
The challenger. Gantz, a longtime Israeli army officer, formed a new political party just five months ago and managed to catch up to Likud — almost. Commentators agree it’s an impressive achievement for an electoral newcomer, and it signals a hunger for change on the part of a big chunk of the Israeli electorate. In an odd twist, Gantz won a majority in the city where Netanyahu lives, while Bibi looks likely to edge out Gantz in his working-class home base.
Helping hand. While Trump described both Netanyahu and Gantz as “good people,” his announcement Monday designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization was only the latest move that probably helped burnish Netanyahu’s right-wing bona fides and secure the win. Netanyahu openly took credit for Trump’s move, thanking his “friend” for responding to his “important request” on the eve on the vote.
WHAT TO READ
The Potential Kingmaker in Israel: An Ultranationalist Who Wants to Legalize Pot, by Dov Lieber in The Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Feiglin’s rise shows how some Israelis are looking to the far ends of the political spectrum for alternative choices in an election where many voters see little difference between the security hawk Mr. Netanyahu and his former army chief of staff Mr. Gantz.”
How Israel’s Resurgent Right Wing Killed Politics, Silenced the Left, and Pushes Autocracy … or Theocracy, by Hagar Shezaf in Haaretz
“Fear and depoliticization are two sides of the same coin in this round of Israeli elections.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Trump on Netanyahu’s Election Win
“The fact that Bibi has won, I think we’ll see some pretty good actions in terms of peace.”
Watch on the Times of Israel:
Israel Election 2019: Palestinians Wary of Leading Candidates
“If they wanted to make peace, they would have done so since we signed the Oslo agreement 25 years ago.”
Watch on Al Jazeera on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Big Brother was watching. About 1,200 unsanctioned hidden cameras are thought to have been inside polling stations in primarily Arab towns on Election Day, some worn by right-wing activists. The culprits, largely linked to Likud, said the illegal move was a bid to protect against election fraud. Netanyahu, when asked about it, said polling stations should have non-hidden cameras.