Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Election results thus far (soldiers’ & diplomats’ ballots are still being counted)
With 97% of the votes counted, here are Israel’s election results, indicating the number of Knesset seats each party won:
Likud (Netanyahu) – 35
Blue White (Gantz) – 35
Shas (Ultra Orthodox) – 8
UTJ (Ultra Orthodox) – 8
Hadash-Ta’al (Left) – 6
Labor (Left) – 6
Yisrael Beytenu (Right) – 5
United Right – 5
Kulanu (Right) – 4
Meretz (Left) – 4
Ra’am-Balad (Arab) – 4
The New Right, led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked fell just over 4,000 votes short of crossing the 3.25% vote threshold, which means they get 0 seats. However, there are still around 200,000 votes (3%) that have yet to be counted. They are expected to be counted sometime on Thursday. These votes, cast by IDF soldiers, police officers, diplomats and their families, prisoners and hospital patients and staff, could potentially push the New Right over the threshold, giving them 4 seats. The votes could also push the Arab party or Meretz below the threshold and out of the Knesset.
So while the final standings are not yet final, the overall outcome is clearly a big win for Likud, Netanyahu and the right wing, which holds a 65 seat majority.
The clear majority of the country’s Jewish voters voted to the right. But they did not vote for the more extreme right wing parties, as is evident from the New Right’s inability to (at least for now) cross the threshold, and the United Right’s 5 seats. Had Bennett and Shaked not broken away from their Jewish Home party to start their own party, their combined block would probably have close to 10 votes. But that didn’t happen.
In order to form a governing coalition, PM Netanyahu will have to cater to his smaller partners. For the most part, these partners are more focused on domestic and economic issues rather than foreign policy and the peace process.
The Ultra Orthodox parties, which make up the third largest Knesset block with 16 seats, are primarily concerned with religious issues, financial aid and draft exemptions. Kulanu is also focused on domestic and economic issues. They are moderate on foreign policy. While Yisrael Beytenu is tough on security issues, its policies are not based on ideology.
What all that means is that PM Netanyahu will not be forced to make ideologically based policy decisions such as annexing territory (even though he promised to do just that), which would most likely put him at odds with the soon to be released Trump peace plan. As long as the PM gives his more moderate partners what they want domestically, he should have free rein over foreign policy and security.
Once all the votes are counted and President Rivlin directs Netanyahu to form a new government, the horse trading will begin with the prizes being ministerial portfolios. The religious parties will most likely be happy with the Interior Ministry and the Health Ministry, which they held in the previous government. Kulanu, with Moshe Kahlon, will probably want the Finance Ministry again. The big prizes of the Foreign and Defense Ministries will most likely remain within Likud, unless Netanyahu decides to hold on to one for himself. (Israel AM)
Trump, World Leaders Congratulate Israel’s Netanyahu on Election Victory
Several world leaders congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for his election to a fifth term, including President Donald Trump.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said of Netanyahu, “It may be a little early but I’m hearing he’s won it and won it in good fashion,” Politico reported.
“He has been a great ally. He is a friend. I would like to congratulate him,” Trump added.
The president also said that Netanyahu’s victory would increase the chances for success of the administration’s upcoming peace plan, which is expected to be unveiled soon.
“The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace,” Trump stated. “Look, everyone said — and I never made it a promise — but everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians. I think we have a chance. I think we have now a better chance with Bibi having won.”
Israel’s Government Press Office said in a statement that Trump had personally called Netanyahu from Air Force One to congratulate him. Netanyahu thanked Trump for his support of Israel and “the two leaders again expressed their appreciation for the abiding friendship between them and their countries. They agreed to continue closely working together in the coming years for both Israel and the United States.”
Trump also tweeted about Netanyahu after seeing a picture of his supporters waving a “Make American Great Again” banner.
“Trump flags being waived [sic] at the Bibi @Netanyahu VICTORY celebration last night!” Trump wrote.
Netanyahu also received enthusiastic congratulations from the other side of the world, with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeting, “My dear friend Bibi, Congratulations! You are a great friend of India, and I look forward to continuing to work with you to take our bilateral partnership to new heights.”
Modi also posted a Hebrew translation of his tweet.
From Europe, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted, “Congratulations to Prime Minister @netanyahu for an excellent showing in yesterday’s national elections.”
“While the official results have yet not been published, one matter is clear: you have — once again — gained the trust of the people of #Israel in record numbers,” said Kurz.
“I am looking forward to working with you in the future,” he added, “for the benefit of the people of Israel and the people of Austria.” (the Algemeiner)
21st Knesset: More ultra-Orthodox, less women
The 21st Knesset appears to be looking more conservative with a wider representation for religious and ultra-Orthodox politicians and less women.
At least 29 women were elected to the parliament, most of whom via the two parties that received the greatest share of the vote – the Blue and White party and the Likud – with 10 women each. The left-wing Labor and Meretz parties elected two women apiece, while the ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – didn’t have any women on their lists at all.
The number is disproportionately low relative to the female share of the population, and although it appears to be on par with the number of women elected to the previous parliament, the number of female MKs rose to 36 throughout the 20th Knesset, according to research conducted by Dr. Ofer Kenig of the Israel Democracy Institute.
Women in the 21st Knesset
When it comes to a variety of ethnicities, 42 of those elected are of Mizrahi descent – more than one-thirds of the Knesset – 15 of whom were elected via the Likud party and nine others via Blue and White. Most of the MKs from the Labor Party who are about to enter the Knessed are of Mizrahi origin (four out of six).
Some 31 MKs in the next parliament will be National-Religious and ultra-Orthodox – similarly to female MKs – making up one quarter of the Knesset. At least 17 out of the 31 are ultra-Orthodox, with another 14 being National-Religious. Almost all ultra-Orthodox MKs were elected via Shas and United Torah Judaism with the exception of Omer Yankelevich – the first ever female Haredi MK – elected via Blue and White.
Religious Jews in the 21st Knesset
Three out of the four elected Kulanu party members are also of Mizrahi descent. In addition, all eight MKs elected via Shas – a Sephardic-ultra-Orthodox party – are also of Mizrahi origin. Meretz and United Torah Judaism parties are the only Jewish parties via which, no Mizrahi MKs were elected.
The number represents a leap from the previous parliament (as far as Haredi representation is concerned), which had some 13 ultra-Orthodox MKs.
The 21st Knesset will also have a record number of MKs from the LGBT community, with at least three gay men joining the current parliamentarians from the community – Amir Ohana from Likud and Itzik Shmuli from Labor. (Ynet News)
How to watch the Beresheet spacecraft land on the moon
The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet, or Genesis, is scheduled to touch down on the moon’s surface on Thursday night in Israel. And the country has Beresheet mania.
Watch parties and celebrations are planned throughout Israel. The main event — in Hod Hasharon, about 13 miles from Tel Aviv in the central part of the country — will include exhibitions, a dance party, a space-themed selfie wall and videos.
Tens of thousands of Israelis had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to watch the lunar lander’s launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Feb. 21 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
This time the hour will be more civilized, with Beresheet expected to touch down in the northeastern part of the Sea of Serenity, a flat area on the moon’s surface, sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. in Israel. A successful landing will make Israel the fourth country — after the Soviet Union, the U.S. and China — to land a spacecraft on the moon.
Other touch-down events also sponsored by the Israel Space Agency are planned for Kiryat Shemona in the north, Mitzpeh Ramon in the south, Givatayim (a suburb of Tel Aviv) and Jerusalem. Lectures and public viewings are scheduled in at least 15 other locations throughout the country.
For those outside of Israel, Space IL, the nonprofit organization that founded the Beresheet program, will livestream the landing on its Facebook page and on YouTube.
Last week, SpaceIL broadcast directly from its control room in Yehud, Israel, as Beresheet successfully entered the moon’s orbit in its last major step before the moon landing, making Israel the seventh country to enter the moon’s orbit.
The unmanned craft’s engine was burned for six minutes, and the maneuver, the spacecraft’s seventh, was conducted with full communication between the control room and Beresheet. Several smaller engine burns have taken place since then to properly orient the spacecraft and enable a proper landing.
Beresheet has traveled over 3.4 million miles in its orbits around the earth and another 1 million around the moon.
After landing on the moon, the spacecraft will take photographs of the landing site and a selfie to prove it touched down safely. It also will measure the moon’s magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
The spacecraft will leave a time capsule containing a database of hundreds of digital files ranging from details about the SpaceIL, the craft itself and the crew of the project to national symbols, cultural items and materials collected from the general public over the years, as well as the entire Bible printed in microscopic text on a coin. The spacecraft is not expected to return to earth.
SpaceIL was founded to compete in Google’s Lunar XPrize, a contest to see who could build the first private spacecraft to reach the moon. Co-founders Yonatan Winetraub, Kfir Damari and Yariv Bash submitted their application right at the deadline, Dec. 31, 2010, and went through a few failed experiments before building the right craft.
The size of a compact car, the craft has been said to look like a way-out washing machine and weighed about 1,300 pounds at launch, most of which was fuel.
The XPrize shut down without a winner last year, but along the way SpaceIL received enough funding to keep going. It has worked in partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries, and its donors include the U.S. billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, South African-Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn and Canadian-Israeli real estate mogul Sylvan Adams.
The organization also hopes to inspire Israeli kids to go into science and engineering, called the Apollo effect, by showing them that space exploration is achievable. Its educational programs have already reached more than 1 million children.
The iCenter, designed to help educators connect Jewish students with Israel, also has a section devoted to SpaceIL and Beresheet, including educational resources about the moon landing and Israel’s space program. (Jerusalem Post)
9 takeaways from Israel’s historic election
by Marcy Oster JTA
Israel’s election on Tuesday was contentious, historic, crazy — and somewhat predictable.
With most of the vote counted — some 300,000 votes from soldiers, diplomats and other Israeli officials working abroad have yet to be tallied — Benjamin Netanyahu seems poised to become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history with the help of his strengthened right-wing parliamentary bloc. But the results also brought some surprises.
Here are the big takeaways.
- Two winners?
No Israeli party had ever garnered more than 1 million votes in an election, but two did on Tuesday: Netanyahu’s Likud and former Israeli military chief of staff Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White, which included other prominent politicians Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon. Each party won 35 seats, but Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition is better positioned to form a government. Still, Gantz’s showing was impressive, and his bloc could become a formidable opposition in the years to come.
There’s always the chance that Netanyahu forms a unity government with Blue and White — but it’s unlikely.
- Orthodox parties keep getting stronger.
Two haredi Orthodox parties have gained seats in the new Knesset, or parliament, and reportedly have pledged to support Netanyahu in the prime minister sweepstakes.
The United Torah Judaism and Sephardic Orthodox Shas each won eight seats, a gain of two and one, respectively. Their combined 16 votes could put them in the driver’s seat when it comes to legislation dealing with a host of issues they care about, such as the enlistment of yeshiva students, public transportation on Shabbat and the push for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
- Arab parties are getting weaker.
In the last election, the Arab parties united and called themselves the Joint List. They won 13 seats in that election. This time, however, squabbles split the list into separate parties. Two Arab party coalitions made it into the new Knesset: The Hadash-Taal list received six seats and the Raam-Balad List barely squeaked past the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the total vote to garner four seats, for a total of 10 seats representing Arab-Israelis.
But Arab voter turnout was historically low — nearly half the traditional rate. That was despite calls by Arab politicians and religious leaders, with the latter taking to muezzins to encourage the public to vote.
One reason was likely disgust with the parties that ran in the 2019 election for not being able to find a way to continue together as the more powerful Joint List. Some were disappointed as well with the parties’ inability to prevent pieces of legislation such as the nation-state law, which codified Israel as a Jewish state. Election Day reports also showed that some 1,200 cameras were placed in Arab polling stations by Likud, which claimed it was protecting against voter fraud. Arab leaders said the tactic intimidated members of the Arab community and kept them from the polls.
- It wasn’t a great day for women.
If nothing big changes in the coming days, the new Knesset will have the same number of women as the last: 29 out of 120. That puts Israel 76th internationally in terms of women’s representation in government, down from 66th in 2015.
- It was a worse day for two right-wing stars.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked will likely not make it into the next government.
The two prominent and outspoken right-wing lawmakers broke away from the Jewish Home party formerly headed by Bennett to form The New Right party, which they called a party based on a “full and equal partnership” between Orthodox and secular Israelis. The party was designed to give secular right-wingers a comfortable place to put their vote and increase the size of the right-wing bloc.
The attempt seems to have backfired: Jewish Home, which joined with the Kahanist Jewish Power, or Otzma Yehudit, and the National Union Party for the 2019 vote, had five seats in the last Knesset and earned the same number on Tuesday. But The New Right does not appear to have passed the electoral threshold.
- It was a letdown for stoners, too.
In the few months leading up to the election, Moshe Feiglin was hailed as among the more important players in any upcoming Knesset coalition. He seemed to be attracting a large following of young people with his libertarian policies — including support for full legalization of marijuana. But his Zehut party also failed to pass the electoral threshold.
(Feiglin, like Bennett, has said that the soldier’s ballots will push him over the line.)
- Voter turnout overall was a little low.
The final total was 67.9 percent, down from the 71.8 percent in the 2015 election, even though Election Day is a national holiday and all public transportation between cities was free to help voters get to their polling places. More than 150,000 Israelis managed to visit national parks — hopefully after they went to the polls.
- One man makes the final decision.
Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, decides which party head gets a chance to form the new government. With Likud and Blue and White tied at 35 seats, or even if that total changes by a seat or two in either direction, Rivlin will look at which leader will be more likely to form a government. To do so, Rivlin will meet with each party head and ask who he or she (there is one she, Tamar Zandberg of the liberal Meretz party) recommends to lead the government.
On Wednesday, Rivlin announced that the consultations will be broadcast live, and the party heads will be able to give official statements at a press center set up at the president’s residence. The post-election press center is nothing new, but the live broadcast certainly is, and is being done “in the name of transparency,” according to a statement from the President’s Office.
During the campaign, Netanyahu told members of the Likud in a statement captured on tape that Rivlin “is just looking for an excuse” to tap Gantz to form the next government, so the end of this process could be interesting.
- What comes next?
Netanyahu would become the country’s longest-serving prime minister, and it looks like his coalition — projected to be 65 seats, giving him a strong 10-seat cushion over the opposition — will allow him to govern comfortably and effectively. Still, expect big bumps for him along the way.
Netanyahu promised at the very end of the campaign to annex the West Bank. If he follows through on the pledge, he is certain to provoke an enormous amount of international scrutiny, especially since the move would likely mean the end of a traditionally formulated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Trump administration is slated to roll out its Middle East peace plan not long after the dust settles from the election, and all signs have indicated that it will include full Israeli control of the West Bank.
Finally, Netanyahu’s apparent crowning as “King Bibi” does not mean that his corruption scandals and looming indictments are going away. News reports the day after the election indicated that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who announced in February that he would indict Netanyahu in three cases pending a pre-indictment hearing, would schedule that hearing for some time in the coming three months. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in the cases.
Netanyahu remains Israel’s hardball hero
by Greg Sheridan The Australian
Benjamin Netanyahu, take a bow. What an extraordinary election result in Israel. Netanyahu’s Likud party has gained five seats and consolidated its spot at the top of Israeli politics. It is overwhelmingly likely he will form a new coalition government.
Netanyahu is a giant of modern global politics. If ever he was going to be defeated it was at this election, with four substantial corruption charges against him and the natural wear and tear of a decade in government. But while no one secures an outright majority in Israeli politics, the breakdown seems to be 65 seats for the Right and Centre Right, and 55 seats for the Left and Centre Left. As in most Western nations today, the old Left-Right classifications are increasingly of limited utility.
Indeed the old mainstream Left in Israel, the Labor Party and Meretz, were pretty well smashed. I think the eclipse of Israeli Labor is something of a tragedy. This was the party of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir.
Netanyahu’s Likud seems to have scored an equal number of votes as the new Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff. This party presented as a bit warmer and cuddlier than Netanyahu and Likud, but there were not really fundamental ideological cleavages.
The Orthodox religious parties and the more right-wing parties scored a couple of dozen seats between them and they are much more familiar and comfortable in forming coalition governments with Netanyahu than with Gantz, who has not held senior political office before.
Netanyahu will become the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history. Like all leaders he has his good and bad, but you can make a strong case that Netanyahu has been much more good than bad. In his decade in office he has reformed the economy to create the “start-up nation” success, with Israel becoming an immense power in hi-tech. And in security he has projected strength.
Netanyahu had a rich mutual dislike with Barack Obama, but he kept the US-Israeli alliance functional. He has absolutely loved the presidency of Donald Trump.
Trump was a big factor in this election. He moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and afforded US recognition of Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. These were massive victories for Israel. There is some criticism of Netanyahu that by getting so close to Trump he imperils the bipartisan nature of US support for Israel. This criticism is surely misplaced. No Israeli PM could, or would want to, say no to a US president implementing Israel’s key long-term requests.
Trump was right to move the embassy and right to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and briefly even Obama had promised to move the embassy. It was a promise US presidents typically made but then didn’t honour because the worry was it would cause too much trouble in the Arab world. But the argument in principle for moving the embassy was always solid. The US, like Australia and most Western nations, recognises Israeli sovereignty over West Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is a different matter. So having an embassy in West Jerusalem, or on the notional east-west border, is no problem in principle.
Similarly with the Golan Heights. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in a defensive war. It tried for decades to give the territory back to Syria, but Damascus could never bring itself to make the necessary peace treaty. That Syrian recalcitrance now looks providential for Israel. The Golan Heights glower directly over Israeli civilian population areas. Returning them to Syrian control would be insane. I have spent a bit of time on the Golan Heights. Arab and Jewish Israelis live there peaceably. Any security threat comes from across the border.
The Trump peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians will be made public after the new Israeli government is formed. It will be fascinating to see if it envisages any territorial sacrifice or compromise from Israel. Even if it does, this would come into force only in the event of a full-scale peace agreement, and there is no indication the Palestinian leadership or society is prepared for peace.
Netanyahu was widely criticised for statements during the campaign about possible future Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the West Bank. This led to some ridiculous headlines to the effect that Netanyahu had said he would annex the West Bank.
He said nothing of the kind. His comments were, of course, ambiguous and could be criticised as irresponsible. But as with everything Netanyahu says, they must be evaluated carefully and in all their complexity.
He was asked whether he would extend Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements and replied along the lines of: Who says we’re not? This is a representative Netanyahu formulation, full of implication but with no specific commitment. He was also asked whether this would apply to isolated settlements or just the big settlement blocks. He said it would include the isolated settlements, that all this would happen “some time” and that the next term would be “fateful”.
Every conceivable peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians involves Israel retaining the biggest settlement blocks, most of which are adjacent or almost adjacent to Jerusalem. These would then be part of Israeli sovereign territory. Therefore if you want to interpret Netanyahu’s comments in the softest possible manner, he is merely restating orthodoxy. Making the same commitment for isolated settlements is much more problematic. Netanyahu specifically was not talking about the outposts or settlements that are illegal under Israeli law.
The comments must also be understood in the context of Israel’s electoral dynamics.
Netanyahu was worried some of the smaller right-wing parties would fall under the 3.25 per cent threshold for getting seats in the Knesset. These votes would then be wasted and Netanyahu might have fallen short of government. So for a while he was encouraging settlers and others to vote for non-Likud right-wing parties.
But then he got worried that he might actually fall behind the new Blue and White party and President Reuven Rivlin might ask Gantz to try to form a coalition government. So, towards the end, Netanyahu went hard for those harder right-wing votes.
He was successful. The major parties did much better and the minor parties suffered.
Netanyahu is a bit of a populist, certainly a nationalist, and defies media condemnation.
He is also a democratically elected and effective Prime Minister of Israel. Incidentally, most of his Arab neighbours work with him quite well.
How will Netanyahu try to stave off indictment, and will he annex settlements?
A day after he won a fifth term, speculation abounds over which ministers, from which parties, the PM will appoint to which jobs — because those choices will point to his strategy
by David Horovitz The Times of Israel
With final results of Tuesday’s elections still being counted, and the fate of the New Right party — four seats or oblivion — still hanging in the balance, speculation was nonetheless in full swing Wednesday night regarding the likely composition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition and its possible key ministers.
The process of building the next government formally gets underway next week, when President Reuven Rivlin calls in senior representatives of the parties that won Knesset seats, and asks them to recommend who he should charge with building a coalition. In practice, it is evident that Netanyahu will be given the task, and he made plain in a victory speech late on Tuesday that he had already begun discussions.
His choice of parties to partner him in his next government is also straightforward. But the roles he negotiates with those parties’ would-be ministers will likely give broad indications of the policies and strategies he’ll be pursuing in his fifth term, notably as regards to his efforts to avoid indictment in the three criminal cases hanging over him, and as they relate to the Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu, whose own Likud won a hefty 35 seats in the elections, is certain to bring in the two ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, which each won eight seats — for a strikingly high 16 seats in total (three more than in 2015). Shas leader Aryeh Deri is widely expected to remain as interior minister, although he is facing possible criminal charges (having already served time for corruption), and Shas will likely be given two other ministries. UTJ’s leader Yaakov Litzman is expected to remain as deputy health minister (the non-Zionist party does not take ministerial posts).
The Union of Right-Wing Parties, with five seats (plus a sixth MK, Eli Ben Dahan, who was elected via Likud’s own list), is seeking two ministries, with its leader Rafi Peretz and his No.2 Bezalel Smotrich particularly favoring education and justice. Smotrich has been a vocal champion of legislation to protect the prime minister from prosecution for fraud, breach of trust and (in one case) bribery in so-called Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000. Netanyahu “should not have to spend half his time defending himself” from legal troubles, Smotrich declared on Wednesday.
Were Netanyahu to indeed entrust the Justice Ministry to Smotrich, or indeed to any of his own Likud colleagues who favor limiting the power of the Supreme Court, such an appointment would represent the open declaration of political war against the court, and it is not clear whether Netanyahu intends to take that path.
It is also not clear how or whether Netanyahu intends to try to use legislation to try to stave off the threat of his imminent indictment. A straightforward path would be to seek to utilize the existing Knesset immunity law, which requires a simple majority to protect any MK from prosecution; such a move would immediately prompt petitions to the Supreme Court, linking Netanyahu’s personal fate to the wider battle between the political and the judicial echelon.
Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, with four seats, has also indicated it will recommend Netanyahu for prime minister and join the coalition, and Kahlon has said he insists on remaining finance minister. TV reports Wednesday night, however, speculated that Netanyahu may encourage Kahlon to rejoin Likud, his former political home, in order to still further boost the party’s Knesset representation, and might offer Kahlon the Foreign Ministry. For now, though, Kahlon is a slightly problematic figure for Netanyahu, since he has declared that he would not support Netanyahu remaining in office if indicted.
With all the above parties joining Likud, Netanyahu would have a 60-strong coalition — one short of a Knesset majority. He could add five more seats if Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu were to join. But Liberman, a former defense minister who resigned in November over what he considered Netanyahu’s soft policy on tackling Hamas in Gaza, might well want that job back again, and would presumably again champion a defense policy harsher than the prime minister’s. Furthermore, the secular champion Liberman would find himself at odds with the two, strengthened, ultra-Orthodox parties as they seek to defang legislation on military service for their communities and push for Israel to become increasingly Shabbat-observant. Nonetheless, the general assessment is that Liberman will wind up joining the coalition; even if he doesn’t, he is seen as unlikely to prevent the formation of the government, or to side with the entire opposition, including Arab MKs, to bring it down.
Pundits on Israel’s Channel 12 and Channel 13 TV Wednesday night assessed that Netanyahu would assign some 15 ministerial portfolios to members of his Likud, but that he might prefer to keep the Defense Ministry, which he took over when Liberman quit, for himself.
By early Thursday morning, the final election vote count should be in, and Netanyahu, and his potential allies, will know whether the New Right of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked has cleared the Knesset electoral threshold, potentially remaking some of the considerations above, or failed to win any seats. In any case, the process of coalition building is likely to take several weeks.
Suggestions in some quarters that Netanyahu might incline to form a unity government with Benny Gantz’s 35-strong Blue and White seem firmly wide of the mark. Netanyahu, in his victory speech, stated flatly that he intends to build a “right-wing government” and any other move seems beyond far-fetched.
The question of how right-wing a government remains open, however. Will Netanyahu now move, for instance, to fulfill his election eve pledge to apply Israeli law to all West Bank settlements? He made the promise in part to drive right-wing voters away from parties such as Bennett’s and toward Likud — with evident success. But does Netanyahu himself actually want to take this step — which would rule out a viable, contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank? And is he correct in asserting, as he has done in interviews, that he might be able to win the support of US President Donald Trump for such a move, much as Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in 2017, and over the Golan Heights last month?
Some of the answers to these questions may become apparent after the Trump administration unveils its endlessly anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal in the near future. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is boycotting the US administration, has pre-emptively rejected the plan. Netanyahu is thought likely to accept it, with reservations, and could then move forward with unilateral settlement annexation, bolstered by the assertion that Israel has no Palestinian peace partner.
Congratulating Netanyahu Wednesday on his election victory, Trump asserted that peace had “a better chance now, with Bibi having won.”
In a TV discussion on Channel 12 news on Wednesday night, political pundits underlined the degree to which Netanyahu is perceived to be driving US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than the other way around. Netanyahu hasn’t merely seen the Trump plan, nor even merely had input into it. Rather, the studio pundits joked, it is Netanyahu who wrote it. And soon he’ll get around to showing it to Trump.