The right and worse: On Benjamin Netanyahu’s comeback

Israel’s leaders must look for a solution to the Palestinian question 

November 04, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 11:40 am IST

Benjamin Netanyahu, after spending 17 months in opposition, has made a stunning comeback with his Likud Party and its right-religious allies taking a solid lead in Tuesday’s parliamentary elections. When about 93% votes were counted, his coalition, including the extremist Religious Zionism and ultra-orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism, is poised to win 65 seats, a comfortable majority to form a government in the 120-member Knesset. While Likud is set to become the largest bloc with 32 seats, the centre-right Yesh Atid, led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the architect of last year’s anti-Netanyahu coalition, is projected to win 24 seats. Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, was ousted last year when Mr. Lapid and other opposition leaders formed a cross-ideology coalition of right-wing, centrist, centre-left and Arab parties. But the coalition government, led by Yamina Party’s Naftali Bennett, eventually fell apart, pushing the country into its fifth election since 2019. For Mr. Netanyahu, who is on trial for three corruption cases, the time spent in the opposition was an opportunity to rebuild his right-religious base. He attacked the “weak” coalition and promised to make Israel “strong again”. The results show that his campaign struck a chord.

With a clear majority in the Knesset, Mr. Netanyahu could build a stable government and pass legislation bypassing the Opposition’s pressure tactics. But his return would also raise questions on regional peace and Israel’s social stability. “The King of Israel” for his loyal supporters, he at best is a divisive leader, whose commitment towards a just solution of the Palestinian question remains doubtful. He had once said that an independent Palestinian state would not be formed under his watch. He has also been known for his hawkish policies towards Iran, which has blamed Israel for a series of subversive attacks inside its territory (which Israel has not denied). While Mr. Netanyahu is seen to be a hardliner, his main coalition partner, Itamar Ben-Gvir of Religious Zionism, is farther on the right. Mr. Ben-Gvir, who in 2007 was convicted of inciting racism and backing a terrorist group, wants to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, the provisional government in the occupied territories, and is staunchly opposed to a Palestinian state. He has also attacked Israel’s Arab citizens. While a government of Messrs Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir would be a leap for Israel’s right wing, any leader who is invested in the country’s long-term interests cannot ignore the growing violence in the occupied lands and widening social disquiet inside Israel proper.

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