Will the far right come to power in the Israeli elections? Here’s what you need to know: NPR
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TEL AVIV — Benjamin Netanyahu, ousted as Israeli prime minister last year, is trying to engineer a comeback.
As Israelis head into elections on Tuesday — for the fifth time in three years — they face the same question from all previous votes: whether the populist leader of Israel’s right, on trial for corruption, should lead the country.
Haven’t we been here before? Many voters seem to think so. The last four elections have done little to change Israel’s continuing political stalemate.
This time around, however, commentators warn against apathy.
“There is an almost intolerable gap between the repugnant boredom these elections aroused as soon as they were announced and their enormous potential for destruction,” writes Ravit Hecht in the left-leaning Israeli daily Ha’aretz.
A favorite in the race, Netanyahu is allied with Israel’s most right-wing politicians in a quest to subjugate the Arab community, gain more control over the justice system and – critics fear – dismiss his corruption case.
Here are some possible outcomes in the November 1 election.
Netanyahu is about to form a coalition with the far right
The coalition that replaced Netanyahu last year was narrow and ideologically diverse. It collapsed this year due to political disagreements.
Public opinion polls consistently show that Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and ultra-Orthodox Jewish and far-right parties are just short of the 61 seats they need for a majority coalition in the 120-seat parliament.
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If Netanyahu’s party bloc manages to win 61 seats, Netanyahu would become prime minister. He promised to appoint far-right figures as key cabinet ministers, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has become the most influential right-wing figure in Israel along with Netanyahu.
A far-right activist with roots in a banned extremist movement, Ben-Gvir has previously been convicted of supporting terrorism by calling for the expulsion of Arabs. Today, he calls into exile Arabs he deems to be actively against Israel, including Arab lawmakers.
The American pro-Israel group AIPAC continues to to avoid he and his Jewish Power party, which he called “racist and reprehensible”. But Netanyahu’s Likud party says Ben-Gvir has become more moderate.
“We need someone like Ben-Gvir, with his power of deterrence,” says Ortal Shlomo, a Netanyahu supporter from Ofakim, a working-class town in southern Israel. “He has moderated his extremism. We need him as he is…He will return them to the holes they came from – the Arabs.”
Netanyahu and his allies want to submit justice
Another high-ranking Netanyahu ally, pro-settler, anti-LGBTQ Bezalel Smotrich, has proposed a series of new laws to strip the justice system of some of its powers, including overturning the Supreme Court – known for ruling in favor of Palestinian and minority rights — and amending the criminal code, which would remove charges of fraud and breach of trust from Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
Netanyahu’s goal in returning to power, his critics say, is to manipulate the justice system in order to drag out or cancel his trial.
“He really believes that as long as he is in power, he can do his best to avoid his trial ending in a guilty verdict,” said Reuven Chazan, a professor of politics at Hebrew University. “For this reason, I think he is dangerous for Israeli democracy.”
Alternatively, Netanyahu might be able to ditch the far right and convince some of his moderate right-wing political opponents to side with him instead. These defectors would tell their constituents that they had to join forces with Netanyahu to save the country from the far right.
The best the centre-left can get is a stalemate
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Centrist Defense Minister Benny Gantz is also seen as a potential candidate for prime minister who could break the deadlock and form a coalition with elements from the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu camps.
What doesn’t seem likely is an outright victory for the anti-Netanyahu party bloc — a hodgepodge of moderate right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties. Some are ideologically opposed to each other and would refuse to sit together in a coalition.
The best current centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid can hope for is a stalemate. Polls show that to be a likely outcome, which would keep Lapid as caretaker prime minister for several more months – before another round of elections.
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What is not being debated in this election is Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Human rights groups accuse Israel of practicing apartheid against the Palestinians. Unlike Netanyahu, Lapid believes in the creation of an eventual Palestinian state, but that is not expected in the near future.
Both men support Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the West Bank, which has included partial blockades on Palestinian areas, nightly arrest raids and clashes with Palestinian militants and rock-throwing civilians, resulting in the year deadliest for Palestinians in the territory for many years. Palestinian attackers have also killed at least 25 Israeli civilians and soldiers this year.
This may be Netanyahu’s last chance to return
If Netanyahu, 73, does not win this election, it will be the fifth consecutive election he has lost. In this case, some members of his party could defect, which would make it more difficult for him to return to power.
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“I think we could see important Likud figures leave the party and build a coalition with other parties,” said Ariel Kahana, a reporter at the traditionally pro-Netanyahu newspaper. Israel Hayomtold the Jerusalem Press Club.
At a recent campaign rally, Netanyahu told his supporters, “We are so close to victory.” The message was upbeat, but this may be his last chance to come back.