How Binyamin Netanyahu managed to return to power

After a year of disgrace, “King Bibi” returns the crown. For the fifth time in less than four years, Israelis have been called to vote on Nov. 1 to renew elected members of parliament. In total, forty lists were competing for seats in the Knesset, but the choice was actually reduced to two people: the centrist Yair Lapid, the resigned prime minister and founder of the Yesh Atid party, and the nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu, the former president of the government, at the head of the “right bloc”.

After two days of counting, the coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu emerged as the big winner of the election with 64 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament. Thus, he obtained the majority and signed his great return to power. Yair Lapid, whose party won 51 mandates, congratulated his main opponent. “Smooth Transition”. But how can this turn be explained despite the fact that the former prime minister of Israel was accused of corruption?

Again in 2021. Benjamin Netanyahu is seeing power slip away from him after fifteen years at the helm, including twelve in a row (2009-2021), which gave him the record for longest tenure as prime minister. The right-wing Likud leader is on trial for fraud and corruption. His trial, which opened in May 2020, is still ongoing. At that time, these accusations did not pass by the Israelis. Demonstrations regarding the departure of “Bibi” have been increasing for almost a year.

The drop in popularity in the March 2021 legislative elections is also reflected in the polls: Likud is losing seats in the Knesset. Weakened by legal setbacks, Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to gather enough MPs to form a coalition. On the contrary, a small majority (only 61 seats) sees the light of day and ends the rule of Benjamin Netanyahu. Naftali Bennett, one of his former protégés, and then Yair Lapid, the founder of the centrist Yesh Atid movement, find themselves at the head of a very heterogeneous coalition (right, left, center and Arab party).

Binyamin Netanyahu's two successors, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, during a meeting in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022.  (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP)

The divisive alliance lost one MP less than a year after its formation, and another in June, causing the government to lose its majority. “Ideologically it was very different, the parties did not have the same values. It was very problematic not to share a similar vision of the country. long-term coalition”Elizabeth Sheppard, director of international relations and political program at Turlar University, analyzes.

Back to square one. If there is no majority, new legislative elections are scheduled for November 1, 2022. Benjamin Netanyahu is back in the race and he is determined to win. “He never lets himself down. He wants it. He’s 73 years old, 10,000 other people would leave him in his place. He is someone who is ready to do anything to keep power.”, describes Denis Charbit, professor of political science at the Open University of Israel. The right-wing nationalist is known for being able to negotiate with parties to form a government coalition, even if it means not sharing their ideology as long as they bring it to power. A character that made him a politician as loved as he was hated.

“He has a ruthlessness that inspires either admiration or disgust.”

Denis Charbit, professor of political science

On the Franceinfo website

In addition to his personality as a fighter and leader, which appealed to a section of the electorate, the unstable political climate for several years played largely in his favor. After the fifth election in less than four years “We feel that the population is somewhat fed up with these very regular elections”, notes Elizabeth Sheppard. In theory, deputies are elected every four years through proportional elections. But in recent years, no coalition has been able to obtain the permanent majority necessary for power. “Bibi’s” past as the head of the government shows that he is the person who can avoid the sixth call to the election. “Netanyahu is seen as a statesman who represents a certain stability with his experience. He was able to emphasize, for example, that he managed the health crisis well.”explains the researcher.

This experience can be seen in his ability to lead the election campaign. According to Freddy Eytan, he learned everything in the United States, where he spent a large part of his childhood. Director of Jerusalem State and Public Relations Center : “His prowess in the field was modeled on American methods. It was he who brought the principle of the performance state to Israel. [la surexposition médiatique des personnalités politiques]. In this field, he is invincible.” For example, Benjamin Netanyahu traveled around the country in the Bibibus, an armored vehicle with bulletproof glass, to promote his fight for internal security before the elections.

A testament to his popularity in the Jewish state, the corruption charges against him were secondary to some voters, observers said. “He is not the first politician to be accused of corruption or criminal activity, but for many people he is second.”, says Elizabeth Sheppard. Others simply don’t believe it and stick to their thesis “prosecution” Worn by Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The majority of voters do not consider these claims to be strong enough. For them, he is not an accused person, but a victim.”

Freddy Aytan, director of Jerusalem State and Public Relations Center

On the Franceinfo website

Binyamin Netanyahu also owes a lot to the parties in his coalition. If it takes first place, Likud could win only 32 seats in the Knesset, that is, half of the 64 seats won by its “right bloc”. Orthodox parties offered him 18 more seats, while the far-right Religious Zionist party won 14 seats, twice as many as in the previous election. As a result, training takes the third place and lags behind Yesh Atid (24 selected).

Therefore, Israel must be governed by a coalition of the most right-wing parties in history. But if Benjamin Netanyahu took the hard right to restore power, he now faces the challenge of putting things right. “This coalition is not just right-wing, it’s made up of elected officials who make racist and sexist statements. It could cause problems with Israel’s allies. [les Etats-Unis et l’Union européenne]remember Elizabeth Shepard. Washington has already expressed hope that the next Israeli government will continue to respect the rights of minorities.

Two supporters of Netanyahu in particular epitomize this racist, homophobic and anti-Arab extreme right: Bezalel Smotrich and Virulent Itamar Ben Gvir has been convicted several times for inciting hatred.

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The first has already declared that he wants the Ministry of Defense, and the second the Ministry of Public Security. According to Freddy Eytan, the unexpected result: “Benjamin Netanyahu needs to keep the far right at bay, so there is little chance he will hand the Justice or Defense portfolios to his representatives.” During the election campaign, the former prime minister had already refused to appear on stage with Ben Gwire. But he’ll still need to secure their support so his coalition doesn’t implode mid-flight.

“These parties have no alternative. They are in a state of interdependence with Likud.”

Denis Charbit, professor of political science

On the Franceinfo website

And now? In the next few days, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whose office is symbolic, will have to give an official mandate to Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government within 42 days. The former head of government will have to prove himself: Israelis expect him for the price of living and purchasing power. According to Freddy Eytan, “This is his last chance to prove he’s respectable.”

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