Benjamin Netanyahu has been a force in Israeli politics for decades, having thrice served as Prime Minister. After a recent election, it seemed as if he was set for another stretch in that position. The successful run at the polls was exactly what he needed, as he and his wife are under investigation on corruption charges which, if he is not Prime Minister, may land them both in prison for a long time.
As Prime Minister, he will be able to pass a law granting himself full immunity from prosecution on the matters, or simply torpedo the investigation.
Unfortunately for Netanyahu, the elections weren’t the sole deciding factor in his ascendancy. Due to Israel’s parliamentary system, even though his party, the Likud, won the most votes he still needed to form a coalition with partners to put him over the 50% threshold in the Knesset, and he was unable to do so.
New elections were called, and those elections are being held today. His main rival in the last election, Benny Gantz of the Blue & White party, has pulled ahead in the polls, but not significantly; there was a difference of less than a half a percentage point in Likud’s favor last time, and polling currently places Blue & White ahead by one.
The polling is expected to be worth little, as it is predicated on prior election models and reports are that the turnout, expected to be lower for this round of voting, has actually been higher – a result which theoretically favors Netanyahu.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has invested so heavily in this election that he is breaking election law on the day of the vote. As Haaretz reports, he has given multiple live interviews on radio stations exhorting his supporters to go vote, a move which is considered illegal electioneering in Israel.
Netanyahu has tied his political future firmly to President Trump, who remains popular in Israel due primarily to his official recognition of Jerusalem as the nation’s capital. Recent statements by the President and a continued incoherence on policy has undermined some of that popularity, and the accusation of Israel having planted spying devices near the White House has not affirmed the value of Trump connections. His friendliness with the U.S. President is expected to help Netanyahu, but it may no longer be enough to keep him in office.
What offers Netanyahu the greatest hope for re-election is the required coalition building among his rivals. Gantz’ Blue & White party is a strong Israeli conservative party akin to Netanyahu’s Likud, but they are more open to incorporating alternate points of view in the creation of policy and are firmly anti-corruption. This has encouraged some center-left and standard leftist parties to tentatively agree to join with Blue & White for a coalition, but some of the hard left groups are hesitant to declare any allegiance, even to topple Netanyahu. It is possible that, after the election, Gantz will have earned the most votes to be Prime Minister but will face the same Knesset coalition problem which kept Netanyahu from again becoming Prime Minister.