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Netanyahu’s Sweet Victory

What’s Next for the Israeli Prime Minister?

Netanyahu and his wife Sara on election night in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 2019 Ammar Awad / Reuters

Israeli voters delivered a clear victory to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country’s April 9 election. The vote was a referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership, in view of his pending indictment in three corruption cases. Moreover, for the first time in a decade, the incumbent faced a formidable challenger: retired General Benny Gantz, who rode the support of Israel’s defense establishment and old elite in a bid to replace the prime minister. But in the end, Gantz could not break the hold of Israel’s right-wing bloc over the voting public, which issued “Bibi” a reverberating “yes.”

The right-wing bloc, led by Netanyahu’s Likud party, won 65 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The victory paved the way for Netanyahu’s fifth government, whose main goals are protecting the prime minister from the criminal justice system, normalizing the legal status of Israel’s West Bank settlements, and limiting the independence of Israel’s Supreme Court. Divisions among Netanyahu’s prospective partners will complicate the coalition-building process but won’t seriously impair it, given that Israel’s right is ideologically cohesive and Netanyahu politically skilled.

The election outcome was unsurprising. Virtually all public opinion surveys during the campaign anticipated a right-wing majority. Gantz’s new party, Blue and White (the colors of the national flag), built its long-shot strategy on the hope that several of the smaller parties on the right would fail to pass the 3.25 percent bar for entering the Knesset, thus stripping Netanyahu of his majority and forcing Likud or the ultra-Orthodox into a deal. Two far-right parties did not cross the threshold, but this was not enough to sway the parliamentary majority. Now Gantz, a rookie politician, will lead the opposition. He’ll come under pressure to join a unity government under Netanyahu—something he pledged not to do in his campaign.

A BITTER FIGHT

The campaign season was an ugly one. Netanyahu’s first move was to try to convince Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to delay publishing his draft

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