A surprising finish to the Israeli elections has seen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party win the most votes and further entrench Netanyahu’s power for what will be his third-straight term as prime minister. But what will that mean for Israel? Here’s a look:
- A Strong Leader
Ynet pointed out that Netanyahu had a come-from-behind victory after the last polls showed his party trailing the left-leaning Zionist Union bloc, a situation that looked bleak for Netanyahu. Just last week Stephan Miller, an American-Israeli pollster and political strategist at 202 Strategies, predicted to The Mideast Update that even if Netanyahu won, he would be weakened in the face of a tight election.
Instead, Netanyahu is arguably the strongest leader since Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Not only is Netanyahu starting his fourth term as prime minister overall (the first was in the late 1990s), but his Likud party just won their most parliamentary seats in the Israeli Knesset since 2003 when Ariel Sharon took power.
In fact, depending on the final vote count—Likud could end up with 30 seats, which is a quarter of all the parliamentary seats—they could hold the most seats since Sharon led the Kadima faction to power in 2006. In an era of political fragmentation in Israel, that’s especially impressive.
Considering only one other party looks to receive more than 14 seats, Likud is not only the dominant party in Israel’s center-right camp, it is ruling all of Israeli politics. That gives Netanyahu a lot of political clout and something of an aura of invincibility.
If Netanyahu felt international pressure after being elected in 2009—in response to which he essentially froze Israeli home construction in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank) and went to great lengths to get negotiations running with the resistant Palestinians—he shouldn’t feel as much now. The pressure will still be there, if not stronger, but at least politically Netanyahu is secure.
- Leaning Right on Terror
The previous government blended center-left parties with Netanyahu’s center-right bloc and the result was a short-lived government with a divided vision. This time, Netanyahu will be able to comfortably form a center-right coalition with his “natural partners.”
Furthermore, Ynet and others have pointed out his victory seems to have followed a stronger push to the right rhetorically, so if anything Netanyahu has seen that a tougher response to terrorism and Palestinian diplomatic attacks wins points at home.
That should set more of the tone for the next government’s approach to terrorism. Two of the more vocal leaders in right-leaning parties expected to join Netanyahu’s coalition have called for a tougher response to Hamas in the past, so a future war with Israel may not be something Hamas wants to consider under the current Israeli leadership.
Similarly, Israel will likely fight back diplomatically against Palestinian efforts to drag it before the International Criminal Court on trumped up war crimes charges, and the publicity campaign against a bad Iran nuclear deal will continue.
- Focused More on Economics
The previous government was founded on plans to work on the Israeli economy, especially the housing crisis. But the center-right and center-left factions proved to be unable to hammer out a legitimate solution.
This government has two parties—Shas and United Torah Judaism—that focus heavily on government support for the poor. A third party, the Kulanu party led by Moshe Kahlon, is focused on social issues, especially for the middle class, Ynet reported Kahlon as saying.
With a stable government that agrees generally on international and diplomatic matters, the newest coalition led by Netanyahu is likely to have more energy to try and hammer out issues at home. Considering the last similarly-situated government—the one elected in 2009—was one of the longest-lasting governments in many terms, this one has a realistic chance to get some things done.
It had looked like this year’s elections would prove to be Netanyahu’s retirement party just days ago. Now, it looks like it’s the stamp on his dynasty instead.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 18, 2015)