Five ways Netanyahu’s return could shake Israel and the world
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return to power after teaming up with far-right parties to win elections this week.
Election results show that Netanyahu’s conservative coalition is expected to win as many as 65 seats in the 120-member Knesset. No political party has ever won a majority on its own in Israel’s multiparty parliamentary system, so political parties must form a coalition to govern.
Netanyahu is the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, serving from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021. But he has long courted controversy, and in recent years has been embroiled in corruption allegations.
Netanyahu’s return to power could have major domestic and international political implications, as he represents a major shift from Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist who has been Netanyahu’s main opponent and who conceded on Thursday.
Here are five ways Netanyahu’s return could shake up Israel and the world:
Netanyahu’s allies could wipe out criminal investigations
Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters after the first exit poll results for Israel’s November 2, 2022 parliamentary elections (Associated Press)
Netanyahu has been fighting corruption charges since 2019, when he he became the first prime minister who at the session of indicted. He is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Netanyahu’s cabinet will be filled with the top leaders of the political parties in his coalition, and those officials could support legislation that would give Netanyahu immunity from prosecution as the current prime minister.
Netanyahu would only need a simple majority in the Knesset to vote for a law that would protect him from prosecution.
He was accused in one case of receiving gifts from two businessmen in exchange for political favors. In two other cases, he was accused of corrupt dealings with media organizations in exchange for favorable reporting.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in these cases as his trial has dragged on for years.
Netanyahu had previously asked the Knesset to grant him immunity from prosecution in 2020, but withdrew it because he appeared to lack the necessary votes to receive legal protection.
Far-right parties key to the new government
Far-right Israeli lawmaker and head of the “Jewish Power” party Itamar Ben-Gvir waves an Israeli flag after the first exit poll results for the Israeli parliamentary elections. (Associated Press)
The far-right party is expected to be a key part of Netanyahu’s coalition and play a major role in decision-making. Itamar Ben-Gvir’s party, Otzma Yehudit, is projected to win about 15 Knesset seats based on exit polls, the party’s best showing in the election.
Ben-Gvir reportedly said that he did he would ask to be appointed as the Minister of the Interior in the ruling coalition, which would make him responsible for the Israeli police and prison service.
The Jerusalem Post reported that he said his priorities would include changing the rules of engagement for police and soldiers, reducing the rights of terrorists in prisons and allowing anyone with basic combat training to carry weapons.
Mail published an editorial against the inclusion of Ben-Gvir in the coalition government, citing his previous remarks calling for the creation of a “Ministry to Encourage Migration” to persuade Palestinian Arabs to leave Israel, and calling on Israelis to shoot Palestinians who throw stones at them.
He called for the deportation of Arab lawmakers, the death penalty for convicted terrorists and greater legal protection for Israeli security forces in the fight against Palestinian militants. Associated Press reported.
Otzma Yehudit’s success in the elections is likely to give the party significant leverage in Netanyahu’s coalition. Netanyahu should support the party’s initiatives to support the granting of immunity in his corruption cases.
Biden and Bibi are not friends, but they are not enemies either
Biden and Netanyahu had a relatively smooth relationship in the early years of Biden’s presidency, but that dynamic could be threatened if far-right politicians are given high positions in the Israeli government. (Getty)
Biden and Netanyahu appeared to have struck a cool peace at the start of the new administration, overcoming years of animosity between the Democrats and the Israeli leader.
Past disagreements range from Netanyahu’s opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 Iran nuclear deal; his drive to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank; his distaste for US efforts to mediate with the Palestinians during the Obama administration and his embrace of Republicans and the policies of the former Trump administration.
“US-Israel relations will remain close but are likely to worsen, especially if Bibi tries to put his thumb on the scale of American politics in support of Republicans as he has done in the past,” Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, the statement said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
Biden scored a key victory with Netanyahu in May 2021, helping broker a truce to end the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with the president’s message — refraining from open criticism of Israeli actions — credited with smoothing relations between Washington and Jerusalem .
Netanyahu also welcomed closer coordination with the US even as Biden sought to revive the JCPOA.
But Biden and Netanyahu could clash if Ben-Gvir and his political partner, Bezalel Smotrich, are given high-profile government portfolios.
Such a move is not unprecedented. Netanyahu refused allow two Democratic members of Congress, representatives Ilhan Omar (Minister) and Rashida Tlaib (Michael), from entering Israel, citing an Israeli law that blocks entry to people who support a boycott of the Jewish state. Former President Trump welcomed Netanyahu’s decision at the time.
Tougher attitude towards Iran
While the Biden administration supports the JCPOA, Netanyahu supported former President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement. (Associated Press)
Netanyahu is sure to continue his staunch opposition to US efforts to rejoin the JCPOA, even as indirect talks between US and Iranian officials have effectively ended.
While the Biden administration argues that the JCPOA provides the best opportunity to box in Iran’s nuclear program, Netanyahu has supported the former Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal and the reimposition of sanctions to isolate the regime in Tehran.
Critics of the JCPOA say its sanctions relief would encourage other malign activities by Iran, including support for terrorism, military proxies across the Middle East and arms shipments to Russia.
Ukraine also hopes that Netanyahu’s animosity toward Iran could encourage Israel to get more involved in the war with Russia, as Tehran plays an increasing role in supporting Moscow.
Moscow uses suicide Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones to target Ukrainian energy infrastructure and civilians, and the White House further warns that Russia wants to buy surface-to-surface missiles from Tehran.
“Let’s hope we finally have some progress on Iran’s weapons.” [used against] Ukraine,” Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgeny Kornychuk, told The Hill when asked about reaction to Netanyahu’s likely victory.
While the US and Europe have imposed sanctions on Iran’s drone program, they appear to have done little to disrupt the construction and delivery of the relatively simple and inexpensive munitions.
Closer relations with Russia
Some Israeli political and military leaders believe that close ties with Russia are in Israel’s best interests. (Associated Press)
However, it remains unclear how Netanyahu’s return will affect his role in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Netanyahu is believed to have a close working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, having established close military communications that allow Israel to operate in airspace over Russian-controlled Syria to eliminate what it sees as an Iranian threat.
“During his long previous tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu often met Putin in person and spoke with him on the phone. Russian-Israeli relations have been basically good, despite Moscow’s close ties to Tehran,” said Mark Katz, non-resident senior fellow in Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council.
There is a general consensus among Israeli political and military leaders that strategic ties with Moscow are in Israel’s national security interest. US officials, while acknowledging Israel’s careful balance, still tried to push Jerusalem to support Ukraine more fully and singled out Lapid for stronger rhetoric.
Netanyahu might reject it.
“With the war in Ukraine causing Russian relations with Iran to become much closer and Russian-American relations to become much worse, Netanyahu may be less able than he was before to have the same good working relationship with Putin or to successfully maneuvers between Washington. and Moscow,” Katz added.
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