JERUSALEM — With weary familiarity, Israelis are gearing up for their fifth election in less than four years. But at least one man is jubilant at the prospect of another vote and a possible new chapter in a remarkable political life.
The charismatic and divisive former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted last year by a fragile coalition of rivals from the right, center and left who came together in an effort to break his hold on power for more than a decade. ‘a decade.
Now the government has collapsed, opening the door for Netanyahu to return to power on a right-wing nationalist slate.
Even before the Knesset took its first preliminary vote on Wednesday to disperse, Netanyahu, also known as “Bibi,” couldn’t help but beam.
“The winds have changed,” Netanyahu, who leads Israel’s opposition and its largest right-wing Likud party, told reporters late Monday after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced he was dissolving his government.
“We are ready for the election, and we are very confident in our ability to win it,” added the skilled orator who dominated politics for a quarter century and served in the Prime Minister’s Office for a total of 15 years. Behind the scenes, however, he is working on a legislative shortcut that would allow him to form a new government without an election.
Either way, Israel’s most famous living politician who has played a secondary role for the past year, is now back in the spotlight.
Supporters of Netanyahu, 72, often describe him as the only Israeli politician capable of leading the country, and he capitalizes on this image as the savior of the nation, often choosing polarizing positions and portraying his rivals as enemies.
He is admired by many for his campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, the establishment of a cutting-edge Covid-19 vaccine program, the support Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, helping to reduce Israel’s isolation in the Arab world by working to normalize ties with Arab Gulf kingdoms and for its close friendship with former President Donald Trump.
His critics accuse him of eroding the country’s democratic foundations by seeking to weaken judicial independence, bolster right-wing extremism and boost the state’s Jewish identity to the detriment of its citizens. Arabs.
“You either like Bibi or you don’t like Bibi,” said Hebrew University political science professor Gideon Rahat.
Long-standing corruption The case will weigh on Netanyahu in the upcoming elections, as it has in the last four polls.
The divisive issues within the electorate have been and will be more a matter of personality than ideology, said Rahat, who said the majority of Israeli voters chose right-wing parties in the last elections and that they will likely do so again in the next election.
“It’s about Netanyahu reshuffling the cards again and again until he wins,” he added.
Netanyahu can effectively hold Israeli politics hostage: He has enough support on the right to prevent his rivals from creating an alternative right-wing coalition while those in the centrist and left-wing parties also lack the popularity to form a government, Rahat said. .
Polls taken in recent days show that the right has grown even stronger, and much of that growth has been in those who would support Netanyahu, while right-wing parties that do not want to sit in government with him have lost support.
“The center has moved to the right, the right has gone further to the right, and the far right has gone to the far right,” said political strategist Aviv Bushinsky, a former chief of staff and adviser to Netanyahu.
Netanyahu himself, despite his upbeat comments, has hedged his bets and is in the midst of intense efforts to use a legislative option that allows him to form a new coalition that puts him in charge of government.
“For some on the right, a nationalist government under Netanyahu “is a dream about to come true,” Bushinsky said. “They see the light at the end of the tunnel, in which they will have a majority … ultra-religious right-wing coalition and they don’t need to compromise with any other party, neither left-wing nor anti-religious, even not a center party.
The concern of many centrists and those on the left in the country is that if Netanyahu formed a right-wing nationalist coalition, he would pass legislation harmful to Israeli democracy.
“They could try to limit the power of the courts and the power of other bodies and put centralized power in the hands of the prime minister,” Rahat said.
Netanyahu’s most immediate rival is Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, whose support has also grown and who in recent elections and polls has emerged as the second most popular. He is expected to become interim prime minister.
“This is truly a do-or-die campaign for both candidates, Yair Lapid as the new leader of the center and Netanyahu as the leader of the right for 26 years,” Bushinsky said.
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