Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu is calling for a re-election

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SMISSION PROTECTION after Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was forced out of office by an unlikely coalition led by a former aide, he is about to return to power. Opinion polls suggest his Likud party will be the largest after the November 1 election. The right-wing and religious coalition that supports him appears to be moving towards a majority in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

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But it is far from certain. This is Israel’s fifth election in less than four years, after the previous four failed to produce a strong government. Another stalemate is likely between the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the parties that refuse to enter a government under a prime minister who has been indicted for fraud and bribery.

“This time will be different,” promises Boaz Bismuth, a former newspaper editor running as a candidate for Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party. voters understand that Israel’s unprecedented economic prosperity was the result of Netanyahu’s 12 years in office and they want it back. The less elegant explanation is that they have seen how, in the name of a anyone but Bibi, that his rivals included even the Muslim Brotherhood in government.”

This refers to the coalition formed last year by Yair Lapid, the current prime minister, which put together a wide range of eight parties, including nationalists, centrists, leftists and – for the first time in Israel’s history – a conservative Islamic party.

Mr. Lapid was so keen to form a government that he would be willing to let Naftali Bennett, leader of a small right-wing party, have his first term as prime minister of the coalition. But the government failed to resolve their differences. After just one year in office, on June 20 Mr Bennett announced his resignation, leaving Mr Lapid as caretaker prime minister until the next election.

A former columnist and chat show host now aged 58, Mr Lapid has built Yesh Atid, the centrist party he founded in 2012, to become the second largest in the Knesset, competing with Likud. It gives Israel a chance to “normalize” after years of struggle under Mr Netanyahu. “Israel is sick of waking up every day to a prime minister in the headlines,” he says.

Unlike Mr Netanyahu, now 73, he has struggled to control a fractured coalition of small parties that do not accept his leadership easily. His defense minister, Benny Gantz, a 63-year-old former general, leads another centrist party and says he has a better chance of forming a government after the election. Mr Gantz believes he can lure ultra-orthodox Jewish parties away from Netanyahu’s camp.

Mr Lapid also has problems on his left side. Labor and Meretz, two of his allies, risk falling below the threshold of 3.25% of the total vote needed to win seats. Under Israel’s system of proportional representation, no single party has ever won an absolute majority in the Knesset. So it is almost impossible to be prime minister without horse-trading to form and maintain a coalition. If the small parties on the left do not make the cut, Mr Netanyahu could have his majority.

“Israel needs parties with specific ideologies, like Labor,” Naama Lazimi, who won second place on the Labor candidate slate, insists. At 36, she represents a new generation of Labor politicians struggling to keep the party relevant. Although he founded Israel in 1948 and was in power for half of its history, voters have been consistently abandoning him, moving from the left.

“Israeli politics is polluted by this endless controversy about Netanyahu,” she says. “That is why we have Lapid’s mishmash of centrism which means nothing. Someone needs to be thinking about the day after Netanyahu, working to create a more equal economy and make peace with the Palestinians. “

Although Mr Netanyahu has shown little interest in accommodating the Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel, or even Arab Israelis within the Jewish state, Mr Lapid supported the idea of ​​a solution two states in a recent speech at the University UN. With the help of America he has also achieved a deal with Lebanon to mark the sea border between the two countries, allowing a rich gas field to be exploited. Meanwhile he added to his security credentials this summer by overseeing a brief offensive against Islamic Jihad in Gaza. This week he praised his armed forces for an attack on the city of Nablus in the West Bank, where they killed five terrorists.

Despite this, the issue of Palestine has barely appeared in the campaign. Israel’s conflict with the Arabs was once a major division in Israeli politics, but now the camp aligned with Mr. Lapid includes those staunchly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

This election campaign has once again been short on real policy arguments. Both blocs have made crude accusations against each other. Mr Lapid’s party warns of the “end of democracy” if Mr Netanyahu returns. The right-wing religious camp mourns the “end of the Jewish state”, if Mr Lapid’s coalition exists.

Mr. Netanyahu cleverly engineered to bring together three small far-right parties on the list of Religious Zionism. This includes Jewish Power, a highly anti-Palestinian and anti-Jewish supremacist party, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was once on the fringes of Israeli politics. To form a coalition Mr. Netanyahu may have to meet some of the demands of the ultranationalists for control of law enforcement.

Religious Zionism has decided on a plan to change Israel’s legal system by limiting the powers of the Supreme Court, which has been strongly independent. He also wants to eliminate the “breach of trust” clause in criminal law, with which many officials have been charged. Mr. Netanyahu faces three such charges in a corruption trial that began two years ago.

Simcha Rothman, a member of the Knesset from Religious Zionism who wrote the legal reform plans, vehemently denies that the intention is to get Mr. Netanyahu off the hook. And religious Zionism, if the polls are right, is going to be the third largest party. It appears to be taking votes away from Likud and other religious partners of Mr. Netanyahu. The message of the far right seems to be resonating with young voters for the first time.

With the two camps almost neck and neck, the turnout could tip the balance. Arab Israelis, about a fifth of the population, may be critical. In the last election, in March 2021, the voter turnout across the country was 67%, but among Arab Israelis it was around 45% and is likely to remain the same. The last time some major Arab parties came together in the Joint List. But this time there are three Arab parties running separately, each likely to fall below the standard. If that happens, Mr. Netanyahu’s chance of winning a majority will increase. Only a last minute surge of Arab votes could hold him out.

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