Middle East

Israel Elections: Will “Bibi” Come Back?

Israel Elections: Once again the Israelis are electing a new parliament and, as in previous years, the outcome is likely to be close.

One question in particular dominated the election campaign: Will Netanyahu make a comeback? / Israel Elections

Israel is not coming out of the permanent internal political crisis. After the government lost its parliamentary majority in early summer, elections must now be held for the fifth time in less than four years. Two party blocs are facing each other: the current government alliance of forces from almost all political camps around the liberal Prime Minister Jair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and the opposition from right-wing and strictly religious groups, led by the national conservative Likud party with its top candidate Benjamin Netanyahu.

Behind them lies another highly polarized election campaign. Although the extremely high cost of living is an important issue for Israelis, polls show that it is not a decisive factor in their voting decision. The position of the parties in the conflict with the Palestinians does not play a major role. You are either left or right politically, you are either for Netanyahu or against him.

The former long-term prime minister, who is still facing a corruption trial against him, is hoping for a return to power. The 73-year-old – nicknamed “Bibi” and for his supporters only “King Bibi” – sharply attacked the current government during the election campaign. She destroyed “all the wonderful things that we have created”.

He accused Prime Minister Lapid of not having a clue about fighting inflation, which is also rampant in Israel. In addition, Lapid is endangering Israel’s security by concluding an agreement with Lebanon that regulates the production of natural gas deposits off the coasts of both countries. Netanyahu’s message: Only he can guarantee security and prosperity.

Right-wing extremists on the rise

In an attempt to regain power, he relies on a controversial partner. Netanyahu wants to rule with the support of far-right politician Itamar Ben Gvir. He is to become a minister in a Netanyahu cabinet.

Ben Gvir repeatedly attracted attention with racist statements and anti-Arab hate speech. He has multiple criminal records, including for supporting a terrorist organization. Politically he is on the rise. According to polls, the “Religious Zionism” electoral alliance, which also includes Ben Gvir’s right-wing extremist “Jewish Power” party, could become the third or fourth strongest party.

Netanyahu is also again counting on the two strictly religious Jewish parties as partners. Critics fear that as head of government he could protect himself from criminal prosecution through appropriate legislation, influence the appointment of judges and generally try to weaken the role of the judiciary in Israel.

Lapid wants to unite society

During the election campaign, Lapid repeatedly addressed the divisions in Israeli society into right and left, secular and strictly religious, and the distrust between Jewish and Arab Israelis. Lapid promised that he would be Prime Minister of all residents, fight divisions and unite society.

The 58-year-old has only been prime minister since July. Previously he was foreign minister. For a long time, many Israelis saw the former TV presenter Lapid as a political lightweight. In the meantime, he has gained in profile.

In the conflict with the Palestinians, Lapid is in favor of a two-state solution. In terms of foreign policy, he takes a less confrontational line than Netanyahu. “Israel is in good hands with Lapid,” praised Chancellor Olaf Scholz when the Israeli prime minister visited Berlin in September.

Lapid’s chances of own majority slim

His liberal future party has recently increased significantly in polls and is expected to be the second strongest force. However, Lapid’s chances of securing his own majority with his previous coalition partners are very slim.

For the long-established Labor Party, which governed Israel for decades after the founding of the state, the 3.25 percent hurdle for entering parliament could pose just as much of a problem as it did for the left-wing Meretz party.

The big unknown in the elections is the voting behavior of the Arab minority, which accounts for almost 20 percent of those entitled to vote. Their parties could support a minority government led by Lapid, or even participate directly in a coalition led by him.

However, it is not certain that all Arab parties will make it into the Knesset. If the turnout of Arab Israelis is low, it is likely that the Netanyahu camp will benefit the most.

Another stalemate likely

According to polls, the Likud will most certainly be the strongest force, but neither Netanyahu and his political partners have a majority of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, nor the bloc around Lapid’s party.

After the election, President Jitzchak Herzog gave the task of forming a government to the top candidate with the most support and the best chances of success. If no coalition can be formed, new elections will be held. Until then, the current government will remain in office.


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