Israel: Netanyahu claims victory in tight election
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have eked out an election win this week, said Gil Hoffman in The Jerusalem Post, which means he’ll almost certainly stay in his post—and out of prison. Benny Gantz, the former army chief who presented his new, centrist Blue and White party as a bulwark of democracy against an increasingly erratic right-wing leader, made a terrific showing for a political novice. Blue and White tied Netanyahu’s Likud, with each party predicted to take 35 seats in the Knesset. President Reuven Rivlin must now nominate the party leader with the most support to try to form a coalition government, and that is Netanyahu. Even though the prime minister is facing multiple charges of bribery and fraud, he can “form a governing coalition able to withstand a bribery indictment,” because his potential coalition partners already promised to back him no matter what. Together, they will likely give him the 61 seats he needs for a majority. Yet those partners include Israel’s most extreme religious parties—and they will demand a price for their support.
The price is the West Bank, said Aluf Benn in Ha’aretz. The United Right bloc—which includes the overtly racist, anti-Arab Otzma Yehudit party—has spelled it out. It wants Netanyahu to declare sovereignty over all existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, a land grab that would leave Palestinians with only fragments of territory. And Netanyahu promised to do just that days before the election. In return, the extreme-right parties will help enact legislation that effectively “buries the indictments” against Netanyahu. The deal is “immunity in exchange for sovereignty.” And Bibi, as he’s known, wants nothing more than to stay prime minister forever. He was prime minister for three years in the 1990s, was elected again in 2009, and has now won re-election three times. By the summer, he’ll be the longest-serving Israeli premier in history.
There’s another option, said Yossi Beilin in Israel Hayom. The Trump administration’s peace plan, the much-hyped “deal of the century,” could be unveiled before the next government is established, and that could push Netanyahu to form a unity government with Gantz. Whatever the deal is, it will involve at least minor concessions from Israel to the Palestinians, and there’s no way a far-right government can endorse that. “A unity government is a must,” said Ben-Dror Yemini in Yedioth Ahronoth. Otherwise, Israel will abandon the quest for two states and end up ruling the Palestinians as unequal citizens, which would destroy our democracy.
What a sorry exercise this was, said Gil Troy in The Jerusalem Post. Blue and White had no platform beyond “We hate Bibi,” while Netanyahu ran an ugly campaign that basically amounted to “Shut up, you’re leftists.” He took every opportunity to divide us—Jew vs. Arab, religious vs. secular, hawk vs. dove. The prime minister “planted time bombs in the public square that will continue to detonate, damaging our body politic.” ■