TOP STORIES The collapse of the Israeli government gives Netanyahu another...

The collapse of the Israeli government gives Netanyahu another chance to rise to power


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JERUSALEM. News of the collapse of the Israeli government broke just an hour ago, but Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader and former prime minister, has already announced that he is returning to power.

“My friends and I will form a national government,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a video hurriedly posted online on Monday evening, before Prime Minister Naftali Bennett even gave a formal resignation speech.

“A government that will take care of you, of all Israeli citizens without exception,” added Mr. Netanyahu.

His announcement was premature. New elections – Israel’s fifth in less than four years – will not take place until autumn and could end without either bloc gaining a majority. Parliament has also not yet been dissolved and will most likely not be dissolved until next Monday.

And as a parting shot before the election campaign, lawmakers could pass a law barring criminal defendants from becoming prime ministers. This could affect Mr. Netanyahu, who is in the middle of a years-long corruption trial.

Nevertheless, the likelihood that Mr. Netanyahu will return to power is now higher than at any time since he left it last June.

Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, now has a chance to add to his previous 15 years in office a period in which he has shaped modern Israeli discourse and priorities more than any other figure. During his former tenure, he pushed Israeli society to the right, encouraged popular distrust of the judiciary and the media, and hastened the recognition of Israel in the Middle East by overseeing the failure of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Like Donald Trump’s supporters, Netanyahu’s supporters did not abandon him even after he lost power.

In the new elections, Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing party, the Likud, will easily win more seats than any other, according to polls. His broader alliance of right-wing and religious parties, while not winning an outright majority, will still be the largest in parliament. And some right-wing legislators who refused to bring him back to power last year may change their minds in the fall, giving him control of parliament.

For his supporters, it would mean the return of strong right-wing rule to Israel after a turbulent year ruled by a fragile coalition of eight ideologically incompatible parties, including both Jewish and Arab lawmakers, united only by their opposition to Mr. Netanyahu himself.

However, detractors are worried about the prospect of his return. Netanyahu’s new government is likely to depend on the support of a far-right party that may demand control of the police ministry in exchange for its loyalty.

Mr. Netanyahu’s own party has spent the past year undermining the concept of a Jewish-Arab partnership, hinting at sweeping changes to the judiciary and even vowing from time to time to retaliate against their political opponents.

Mr. Netanyahu himself denied that he would use his return to government to frustrate the prosecution, implying that he would be happy to face trial – a process expected to take several more years – while running the country.

But one Likud MP and Netanyahu supporter, Shlomo Karkhi, said earlier this year that he would work to replace the attorney general, the senior government official who oversees Mr. Netanyahu’s prosecution. And another Likud MP and former minister, David Amsalem, said earlier this month that “Anyone who does not intend to change, first of all, our sick and biased judiciary, has nothing to look for in the Likud.

“Once we break the bones of the left wing, we will explain to them that we know how to run this country a little better,” Mr. Amsalem said in a separate radio interview this month.

For Ben Caspit, Mr. Netanyahu’s biographer, such rhetoric raises concerns about the prospect of a new Netanyahu-led government. “Israeli democracy will indeed be in danger,” said Mr. Kaspit, a political commentator.

“The only thing that interests him is to stop his trial,” he said.

Some of Netanyahu’s allies dismiss the talk as alarmism.

“Fake predictions,” said Tzachi Khanegbi, a veteran Likud MP and former minister. “They can’t blame Netanyahu for security or economic issues,” Mr Hanegbi said. So what can they talk about?

In the meantime, for some leftists and many Palestinians, the new Netanyahu government will not be much worse than the current one.

Prime Minister Bennett is taking a unifying stance and for the first time in Israeli history has formed a governing alliance with an independent Arab party. But on many fundamental issues, he agrees with Mr. Netanyahu. Former settler leader Mr. Bennet opposes a Palestinian state, supports the blockade of the Gaza Strip and approved the construction of thousands of new settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Ultimately, Mr. Bennett said, he decided to overthrow his own government in order to prevent the collapse of the West Bank’s two-tier legal system, which distinguishes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Some compare it to apartheid.

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political scientist and former Palestinian minister, said: “The current government may differ in certain views and positions, but in practice it is not at all different.”

“They had the same political position: no Palestinian state, no negotiations,” he said. “And they continued to expand the settlement as quickly as they could.”

The current and previous governments also had similar approaches to the Middle East in general. Both have sought to forge new diplomatic ties with Arab countries that have long isolated Israel, and both have opposed US efforts to ease sanctions on Iran if Iranian officials agree to moderate their nuclear enrichment program.

But for many Israelis, there is a clear difference between the right-wing government led by Mr. Netanyahu and the diverse current coalition led by Mr. Bennett and his centrist partner Yair Lapid, who is set to become acting prime minister during the presidential election. election campaign.

Although Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lapid came from opposite political camps, they built a partnership based on compromise and civility, which supporters saw in stark contrast to Likud’s bullish split.

During their speeches on Monday to announce the collapse of the government, the two men showed respect, affection and admiration for each other, even as they put an end to their joint project. “I really love you,” Mr. Lapid said to Mr. Bennet at an unrecorded moment.

In practical terms, their government also got Israel moving again after a period of paralysis under Mr. Netanyahu, who lacked a large enough parliamentary majority during his last two years in office to carry out some of the core functions of government.

Mr. Bennett’s administration passed Israel’s national budget for the first time in more than three years; tried to lower the cost of food by removing tariffs on food imports; began to liberalize the regulation of kosher food; and filled several key vacancies in the upper echelons of the civil service that had been left empty under Mr. Netanyahu.

The Bennett government has led one of Gaza’s quietest periods in years, urging militants there to limit rocket fire into Israel’s south while offering Gazans thousands of new work permits.

The government has also improved relations with the Biden administration, but remains opposed to some of the administration’s goals, such as a nuclear deal with Iran or the opening of a US consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians.

Mr. Netanyahu is not a contender for the next prime minister, nor is he in four elections from 2019 to 2021. Each time, he failed to form a majority coalition with other parties or did not fulfill his obligations to them. when he did.

These new elections may be no different, said Professor Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“We have done this film four times and we can get the same results for the fifth time,” said Prof. Rahat.

He added that right-wing parties that previously refused to sit in Netanyahu’s government could go with him this time, but experience shows that such a partnership does not end well.

“Netanyahu has trust issues,” said Prof. Rahat. “He can make a thousand promises, but no one believes him. Netanyahu is pretty good at electoral politics, but when it comes to building a coalition, he has nothing to say.”

Report has been provided Myra Novek from Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.

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