11/02/2022, 17.46
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Netanyahu wins election, while Ben Gvir scores for religious Zionism

Bibi is making a comeback after a year out of power. In his first address, he tries to woe all Israelis, but he will be hard-pressed to manage the ultra-right, the real surprise of this election. With 86 per cent of the votes counted, the new majority can count on at least 65 seats. In the United Arab Emirates, there is some grumbling about the Abraham Accords.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Former Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and his party are set for a major comeback after one year out of power.

Israel’s extreme right and ultraorthodox parties have also made great progress, whereas Israel’s left has been clearly defeated.

For outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, this is a major setback but his party was able to resist the right-wing wave and elect a considerable number of Members of the Knesset.

Yesterday’s general election, the fifth in just over three years, saw a rise in voter participation with a  71.3 per cent turnout, the highest since 2015.

Netanyahu, who was prime minister several times over the past 30 years, is back in the prime minister’s seat after a year in the opposition, playing power games behind the scenes, while his corruption trial is still set to go ahead.

Bibi could count on a substantial portion of the electorate, and the tensions within the outgoing coalition government, always teetering on the verge of collapse, as it included Arab parties as well as the nationalist right and what is left of the Israeli left.

With 86 per cent of the votes counted, the coalition led by King Bibi is set to get 65 seats out of 120 Knesset seats, well over the 61 needed for a majority. As expected, Likud won most votes.

The centrist party of outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid came in second place while the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength), a Zionist religious party, led by Itamar Ben Gvir, came in third.

The latter, a far-right lawyer and activist, has long been known for his radical, violent, and racist positions, and will likely play a crucial role in the new government.

In the past, he repeatedly called for the annexation of the entire West Bank without any concession to the Palestinians, greater leeway for the Israeli military in the territories, and restrictions on the Supreme Court, which remains one of Israel’s few independent institutions and bulwark of the constitution.

In his very first remarks, Ben Gvir renewed his push for nationalist policies, stressing that it was time to be masters of the country again and guarantee security to its citizens.

For his part, Netanyahu was more moderate, promising to take care of everyone because Israel respects all its citizens without distinctions.

For now he seems to be avoiding his allies’ most radical and extremist positions, but it is only a matter of time before the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox will play a leading role in the future government.

Some analysts like Lahav Harkov in The Jerusalem Post believe that Netanyahu might seek the support of centrist Benny Gantz, the outgoing defence minister and former government ally, before turning to the extreme right.

Moreover, while Gantz has repeatedly said that he would not form an alliance or support Netanyahu (and vice versa), the two leaders and parties are not that far apart.

It is very likely that at international level, the Abraham Accords and regional alliances with the Gulf states will be simpler with a centrist and moderate ally than with Ben Gvir's party. There is already grumbling in the United Arab Emirates.

Lapid's Yesh Atid party is expected to achieve its best result with 24 seats, but the anti-Likud coalition is far below the threshold to form a majority in the Knesset.

The Labour Party won 4 seats, while left-leaning Meretz could be left out since it is below the 3.25 per cent threshold with only a few tens of thousands of ballots to be counted.

The exclusion of Balad, a left-wing party representing Israeli Arabs, is almost certain. In this election, the Arab community was divided and, from early results, it seems that turnout among Israeli Arabs was low.

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