Netanyahu will return to power in Israel, form far-right government

Former Israeli Prime Minister and the head of Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara gesture after first exit poll results for the Israeli Parliamentary election at his party’s headquarters in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Long-serving Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is returning to the post of prime minister for the third time, as he is positioned to form a far-right governing coalition after his conservative bloc won a majority in this week’s national elections, according to near-final vote tallies.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office said Thursday he has conceded defeat to Netanyahu, whom Lapid congratulated in a statement.

“The state of Israel comes before any political consideration,” Lapid said. “I wish Netanyahu success, for the sake of the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s ability to secure a majority governing coalition is expected to stabilize years of political indecisiveness in the country, where voters have gone to the polls five times in under four years. 

But Netanyahu’s return to power is mired in controversy, occurring while he is still standing trial in three corruption cases in which he faces up to 10 years in prison. His victory also required him to build on an alliance with far-right parties criticized for their treatment of Israel’s Arab minority population and further inflaming tensions with the Palestinians.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the far-right Otzma party, is expected to receive the profile of Interior minister and has reportedly called for legislation that grants a sitting prime minister immunity from criminal proceedings. 

The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief described Ben-Gvir as “the modern Israeli version of an American white supremacist and a European fascist,” advocating for the migration of Arabs from Israel to Europe. He reportedly brandished a firearm in an Arab community in Jerusalem, encouraging people to shoot Arabs who are throwing stones.

Another far-right politician, Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the Religious Zionist Party and said he is seeking the portfolio of Justice minister in a Netanyahu-led government, was reportedly recorded speaking with Ben-Gvir about legislation that would eliminate the charges against Netanyahu as criminal offenses, without addressing the Israeli leader specifically.

Still, Netanyahu’s election victory will be seen by some as a validation of his strongman leadership style, having promoted himself as singularly capable of guaranteeing Israel’s security. His return to the premiership follows a 12-year reign, between 2009 and 2021. He served as prime minister for the first time between 1996 and 1999. 

Netanyahu was ousted from power after a group of parties from across the political spectrum teamed up, along with an Arab party, to form a governing coalition following elections held last year. The parties were largely united by opposition to Netanyahu and his corruption scandals.

Lapid, who leads a centrist political party and was Netanyahu’s top opponent in Tuesday’s election, reached an agreement with Naftali Bennett, the leader of a conservative party, to establish a rotating coalition government.

Under the agreement, Bennett would serve as prime minister for the first two years and Lapid would serve for the second two years. Bennett has described himself as more right-wing than Netanyahu.

Bennett and Lapid’s coalition had a narrow 61-seat majority for about nine months, but a couple members of Bennett’s party announced this past spring that they would leave the coalition as a result of disagreements with left-wing members of the government.

Without a majority in the Knesset, Bennet and Lapid announced in June that they would dissolve the body and elections for a new government would be held in November.

Bennett resigned as prime minister and announced he would not stand for reelection, while Lapid has served as an interim caretaker prime minister since then.

Updated at 1:37 p.m.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Benjamin Netanyahu Itamar Ben-Gvir Naftali Bennett Yair Lapid

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