Netanyahu wins his closest election race yet amidst corruption indictments

On Apr. 9, Israel recently held elections which decided the nation’s ruling coalition and consequently the future prime minister. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is the current Prime Minister of Israel, and he won a fifth term in office. He is now the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history.

CNN reports that Netanyahu’s increasingly right-wing Likud Party won in a very tight race against the newly formed opposition Blue and White Party. Benjamin Gantz, a former member of Likud and the former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Force, leads the center-left Blue and Whites supported by minor Arab and left-wing parties.

The absentee ballots have not been fully counted yet. However, it appears that Likud and minor right-wing and religious parties won 65 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. However, Israel’s Election Committee said more than 28,000 invalid votes were cast in the previous day’s Knesset election, lending credence to complaints filed by several parties over alleged ballot theft and tampering, according to Israeli news outlet, i24News.

This was Netanyahu’s closest race as both parties declared victory on election night, however Gantz conceded on Apr. 10. Netanyahu stated that “the right-wing bloc led by the Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust. I will start forming a right-wing government with our natural partners as soon as tonight.”

To gain support among conservative Israelis, Netanyahu has pivoted right during this election. He promised to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, even though the international consensus states that these settlements are illegal encroachments on Palestinian land. Additionally, Netanyahu has stated that he will form a coalition with Likud’s “natural allies.” The New York Times reports that among these natural allies are far-right parties like Yisrael Beiteinu. This party advocates for massive population transfers to create ethnic Jewish and Arab states; and on top of this, it seeks to deny citizenship to Arabs. In a previous election Yisrael Beiteinu’s slogan was “No loyalty, no citizenship.”

This close race was heavily influenced by the corruption indictments against Netanyahu, one of which was for allegedly offering preferential regulations for a newspaper in exchange for positive coverage. The Supreme Court will rule whether Netanyahu can hold office given his legal struggles. Despite these allegations, Netanyahu has won several victories in foreign policy.  The Trump administration moved its embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the contested city as the sole property of Israel and pulled out of the Iran deal, which Netanyahu vehemently opposed and Netanyahu has presided over relative peace in Israel proper. Due to the general cohesion between the Trump and Netanyahu administrations, it is not surprising that after the preliminary election results came in President Trump claimed that “the fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace.”

Palestinian activists and politicians, however, seem to disagree with Trump’s assessment that Netanyahu will bring peace. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Council, stated that “Israelis overwhelmingly voted for candidates that are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine.” Despite the stakes, Palestinians turned out in record low numbers, and this is likely due to the perception that the Blue and Whites are not much better than Likud on Palestinian rights.

Mohammed Sultan, a teacher living in Gaza, told The Guardian that “whatever the outcome, the situation for Palestinians in Gaza will not differ. Whether Netanyahu wins or not, nothing will change.” Sultan specifically pointed to Gantz’s campaign ad, which showed a video of Israeli jets bombing a Gazan neighborhood in 2014, and boasted of the terrorists that he killed. The 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict that Gantz oversaw killed 2,251 Palestinians, 65% of which were civilians, and wounded over 11,000, including nearly 7,000 women and children, according to The United Nations Human Rights Council.  

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