11/03/2022, 18.26
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Christian leader: Netanyahu's balancing act between the Arab world and radical allies

Sobhy Makhoul highlights concerns already expressed by the United Arab Emirates over the Abraham Accords. Things will be clear when the new cabinet is formed with the demands of Ben Gvir's extreme right in mind. This election saw Meretz’s vote collapse and the disconnection of Arab parties. At stake is the prime minister's ability to turn his moderate speech the evening before the vote into policies.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The results of Tuesday’s Israeli election, which saw the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu but especially that of nationalist and religious parties, have set off alarm bells across the Arab world and in the Gulf, especially in the United Arab Emirates.

Now observers are waiting to see how Netanyahu will manage his allies and turn the moderate views he expressed on the evening before the election into government policies.

For Sobhy Makhoul, a member of the Maronite Church of Jerusalem and a former administrator of the Christian Media Center, a 65-seat majority would provide for a stable Knesset (parliament) after several unsettled years, but the real turning point will be "the distribution of ministries" among the various parties in the winning coalition.

This morning the Yesh Atid party of outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that a “smooth and responsible” transfer of power was underway.

With 93 per cent of ballots counted, the left-wing Meretz party stood at 3.15 per cent, short of the 3.25 per cent needed to be included in the Knesset.

Netanyahu's Likud is expected to win 32 seats, Yesh Atid 24, and the extreme right 14. Only five seats will go to Ra'am, punished by its traditional Israeli Arab electorate for its divisions.

Ballots sent in by mail must be counted. At least, “400,000 are still at stake and to be counted,” said Sobhy Makhoul. “They are not, however, expected to change the outcome.”

The final result will be released on 9 November when the Electoral Commission will formally inform the President of Israel; two days later, consultations will start. Netanyahu will have two weeks (plus a third, if necessary) to form his cabinet.

For Makhoul, "When they will discuss ministries trouble will begin. [Itamar] Ben Gvir wants the Interior Ministry, to control the police, or Defence, but the new prime minister will not likely grant him such major offices.”

"It is more likely that he’ll get the Economy, Finance or even Education; for religious nationalists, the latter has great value because they can distribute resources and determine the school curriculum, including religious ones.”

Conversely, Meretz’s failure to get a seat will inevitably affect the Knesset and the balance of power in the country.

“In the coming weeks, we will see how smart Netanyahu will be in keeping Ben Gvir under his control and reassure Israel’s new allies in the Arab world, who have already expressed concern over the outcome of Israel’s election, above all the United Arab Emirates, the first backer of the Abraham Accords.

Civil society groups and moderate Israelis share the same concern over a right-wing shift.

"Now, more than in the past, it will be possible to evaluate the prime minister’s political value”. The feeling is that even the Jewish Strength (Otzma Yehudit) party "will end up downplaying its extremist ideology and radical proclamations when it ends up holding government posts.”

Finally, the Christian leader notes “the high turnout in the vote", the "highest since 2015," and the “country’s radicalisation, increasingly unbalanced towards the extreme right.”

This shift “has perhaps been favoured by some incidents in recent months", such as an attack in Tel Aviv by alleged "lone wolves,” who are seen as a serious threat to the country but about whom “nothing was heard of” afterwards.

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