How Benjamin Netanyahu won a historic fifth term

The background of Israeli politics, the major players in the current election and future implications.


(Palácio do Planalto/Flickr)

In May of 1948, Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion declared Israel an independent state. 11 minutes later, the United States became the first country to officially recognize Israel as independent. Since that moment, the U.S. has had a profound role in shaping Israel’s politics and the ties between the two countries remain stronger than ever.

This is evidenced by the tension surrounding pro-Israel interest groups like AIPAC, which have the unconditional backing of the Republican Party and are opposed by Democrats like Rep. Ilhan Oman who question that loyalty. Donald Trump has been a particularly ardent supporter of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, something that was made clear when the U.S. moved it’s embassy to Jerusalem.  

On April 9, Israel held a highly anticipated Prime Minister election. The race is so close that numerous polls coming out of Israel are indicating that the Likud and the Blue and White parties are tied at 26 or 27 seats in Israel’s representative body, the Knesset.

Netanyahu has been in power for 13 years and is seeking re-election for a fifth term. His reign has been so long that he’s been dubbed the “King of Israel.” He has gained a majority coalition in the Knesset consisting of seven far-right parties constituting 61 of the 120 seats, and he also leads the Likud party, which holds 30 of those seats.

Prime Minister Netanyahu.
(Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

This past winter, I spent a week in Israel on a Birthright trip. At some point during the trip, our tour guide highlighted the jarring reality of the Israeli Democracy. He told us that Israel is a democracy where all people and religions are equal, but Jewish people are “more equal.” Netanyahu being ahead in the polls recently reiterated the notion that Israel is “not a state of all its citizens” but  “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and only it.”  

The primary opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition is headed by a new party called the Blue and White, which is led by political newcomer and former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Running on a comparatively centrist platform, Gantz provides an appealing alternative to Israelis who are tired of the far right government continuing the cycle of corruption and violence. Unfortunately, the focus of this election is on opposing Netanyahu, whose actions are setting a “very, very, very dangerous” trend, threatening to undermine an already faltering democracy.

Not only is Netanyahu facing bribery charges, but he’s also threatened democratic institutions such as the independent judiciary and bypassed checks on his power — evidenced when he sold military submarines to Egypt without notifying the National Security Council. He also coincidentally invested in a company connected with building those same submarines.

The 20th IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
(Israel Defense Forces)

The importance of this election, not only for the state of Israel but for the state of the Middle East as a whole, cannot be overstated. We’ve seen an Israel led by Netanyahu become more and more divisive and hawkish in its conduct towards Palestine, the Gaza Strip and the Middle East a whole. The power that Israel holds over the Trump administration is detrimental to peace in the region as evidenced by the further provocation of Iran to pander to Israel’s interests by naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

Netanyahu has shown that he is unwilling to pursue any sort of compromise or reconciliation in order to lay the groundwork to achieve a lasting peaceful two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis. The ongoing humanitarian crisis shouldn’t be blamed solely on Hamas or Israel, but rather on both, as well as questionable loyalty of the U.S. and inability of the Arab Kingdoms to seek compromise. None of this will be resolved until the Israeli government becomes less conservative.   

Reach Vadim at [email protected]

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