Netanyahu braces for comeback as Israel heads for new elections

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TEL AVIV — News of the collapse of Israel’s governing coalition and preparations for a fifth election in less than four years has angered many Israelis. But the news came as a resounding victory for Benjamin Netanyahu, who over the past year as opposition leader has been plotting his own comeback.

However, it is not immediately clear how this would play out, as polls show most Israelis will continue to vote as they did in the last election, producing a polarized and deadlocked Knesset and fragile coalition governments. .

Netanyahu, who has led Israel for much of the past 20 years, appears to be betting on breaking the political deadlock by galvanizing his right-wing base and portraying his opponents as a threat to society.

Israeli leader to dissolve Knesset, triggering new elections

“A government that depended on supporters of terrorism, that abandoned the personal security of the citizens of Israel, that raised the cost of living to unheard of levels, that imposed unnecessary taxes, that endangered our Jewish identity . This government is going home,” Netanyahu said Monday in a video posted to Twitter. “My friends and I will form a government… which, above all, will restore national pride to the citizens of Israel.”

The coalition’s collapse is largely the result of Netanyahu’s efforts to encourage coalition members uneasy with its ideological diversity to jump ship.

“From day one, Netanyahu sought to overthrow the government and focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and issues related to Arabs in Israel,” said political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin. “It was handy fruit.”

A Knesset committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to hold the first reading of the vote to dissolve on Wednesday, instead of next week as originally planned, to thwart Netanyahu’s efforts to form an alternative Knesset government. last chance.

At 72, after a year and a week in the opposition chamber of the Knesset and in the Jerusalem District Court, where he faces an ongoing corruption trial, Netanyahu’s determination to reclaim his political throne seems fiercer than ever.

“It’s the big show, and nobody does the big show like Netanyahu,” said Aviv Bushinsky, a former adviser to Netanyahu.

Michael Maimon, a longtime Netanyahu voter and former military colleague of Netanyahu in the 1960s, said he expects the vote to be different from the previous four times. The “nightmare” of the incumbent government has mobilized Netanyahu’s base, some 300,000 of whom did not turn out to vote in the last election due to exhaustion from the protracted cycle of political deadlock.

Netanyahu has reliably won the most votes in every election but struggled to cobble together the 61 seats needed to control the 120-seat Knesset.

“Bibi knows he’s the most popular candidate and the support for him is better now than it has been in recent years,” Maimon said. “He can’t wait to get home.

A survey by Israeli radio station 103FM found that a bloc led by Netanyahu – including his right-wing Likud and religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties – would win the most seats in a new election, although two still remain a majority – a recurring problem of recent coalition attempts.

In 2021, Netanyahu failed to form a coalition and was forced to hand over the mandate to centrist Yair Lapid, who led the second-largest party, who then allied himself with right-wing Naftali Bennett in a power-sharing agreement.

The Bennett-Lapid coalition replaced Netanyahu last June with the backing of a wafer-thin coalition of eight ideologically divergent parties united only by a desire to oust Netanyahu.

Part of the reason Netanyahu failed to form a coalition in 2021 was that he had alienated so many of his former allies on the right – the same people now vowing to prevent his return.

“I will not bring Bibi back. All party members are with me. No one will succumb to inducements [to defect to Likud]Gideon Saar, justice minister and former Likud party veteran, told Army Radio on Tuesday.

Netanyahu will try to raze those in Bennett’s religious Zionist base who have expressed discomfort with the inclusion of an Arab-Islamist party in the coalition. Netanyahu has long claimed that his inclusion undermines Israel’s Jewish character and its security — despite having once courted the party himself.

“Peace and security must be restored for the citizens of Israel and on the streets of our cities. Unfortunately, we all see that a government dependent on the Islamic movement is unable to do that,” Netanyahu said after visiting relatives of one of the Israelis killed in a shooting in March.

With the election rush, the Arab community in Israel is preparing for a Netanyahu campaign that will vilify Arabs, said Yousef Jabareen, a former member of Knesset for the left-wing Palestinian Israeli Hadash party.

In previous elections, Netanyahu portrayed Palestinian citizens of Israel as a danger, warning in one instance that they were “heading for the polls en masse.”

“We are seriously concerned that Arab politicians and Arab citizens will be subject to delegitimization,” Jabareen said. “We know that incitement against the Arab community is an integral part of Netanyahu’s process, in that he tries to attract more right-wing voters while trying to keep Arab voters out of the game.”

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