Israelis are not yet “fatigued” by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
That was the electorate’s message on Tuesday, when the three-time prime minister won the chance of a fourth term with a resounding election win nobody had predicted.
He had earlier bolstered his right-wing credentials by evoking fear of “dangerous” Israeli Arab voters, dismissing the idea of a Palestinian state and reinforcing his thinking on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as a means of breaking up Palestinian land.
It was, he said, “a great victory”. For those in the Diaspora who had hoped for a change of direction for Israel, it was a great disappointment.
What happens next? Netanyahu now needs a majority to form the next government. With his 30 seats, that leaves 31 more still to get in the 120-seat Knesset. He told supporters that he had already contacted several party leaders.
The process of coalition-building in Israel is typically long and laborious – a patchwork cabinet finally emerging after several months, but this time it may be short and sweet. Natural allies include settler-leader Naftali Bennett and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. Another ten seats would be added if Kulanu leader and former Likudnik Moshe Kahlon could be tempted. Both he and the ultra-Orthodox parties could therefore act as kingmakers.
Following his shock departure two years ago from the Likud, where he was hugely popular, his return to government would make Kahlon perhaps the most prominent new face in the new Knesset. But there is no guarantee that will happen.
To-date he has remained elusive and aloof. “Despite being serenaded, has so far refused to meet with either Buji or Bibi,” says BICOM’s Richard Pater. If he is to be won over, he will want his wishes granted, so Netanyahu’s coalition can expect to commit to a shake-up of the housing market and a break-up the state monopolies, including the land, ports and electric authorities.
As the centrist Yesh Atid (11 seats), centre-left Zionist Union (24), left-wing Meretz (4) and Joint Arab List (14) prepare for the role of opposition in the 20th Knesset, analysts say Netanyahu’s next government could be among the most right-wing in decades.
Yet while much was made of Netanyahu’s pre-election comments about Palestinians and settlements, his Likud party has recently been through what Pater calls “a healthy repositioning,” with the return of veteran politician Benny Begin and the ousting of Moshe Feiglin’s far-right ‘Jewish leadership’ faction. It has returned, says Pater, to its Jabotinsky roots, a “national liberal party, with an emphasis on strong democratic values, similar to President Rivlin”.