Will Bibi make a comeback in Israel voting next week?

Will Bibi make a comeback in Israel voting next week?


With a week to go before Israel’s fifth general election in less than four years, one question dominates: Will combative ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu return to power?

Polls show he would likely need strong support from the country’s nascent far right to form a government – a scenario that, one expert warned, would spell “disaster” for Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu served a total of 15 years as prime minister, a record in Israel’s 74-year history, before being ousted in June 2021 by a motley coalition of ideologically divided parties united only by their opposition to him.

Widely known as “Bibi,” he was an ally of former US President Donald Trump and a dominant leader under which Israeli politics shifted to the right and talks to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all but stalled.

Despite standing trial on corruption and breach of trust charges he denies and undeterred by his failure to secure a majority government in four straight elections, Netanyahu has vowed a comeback.

As opposition leader and leader of the right-wing Likud party, the largest in parliament, the 73-year-old known as a cunning strategist has worked to exploit divisions in the coalition.

The unlikely post-Netanyahu government included religious nationalists, centrists, leftists and – for the first time in Israeli history – an independent Arab party.

Netanyahu brought them down by ordering his parliamentary allies to vote against a measure they all ideologically backed: a bill ensuring Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank can live under Israeli law.

The Likud leader has rightly bet that the coalition, deeply divided over the occupation, would crack down on the issue.

– “Most Critical Choice” –

Naftali Bennett resigned as prime minister in June, saying his government was no longer tenable. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid took over as acting prime minister and elections were called for November 1st.

While the collapse of the coalition meant a clear tactical victory for Netanyahu, polls show he and his allies could again be fighting for a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.

Crucially, there is no path to a Netanyahu-led government without the backing of a far-right coalition known as religious Zionism.

This bloc includes Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has used incendiary anti-Arab rhetoric in the past and has expressed admiration for Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer of Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994.

“This election is perhaps the most critical because Netanyahu has allied himself with a racist party and that could be a disaster for Israeli democracy,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“The result could be the most extreme right-wing government Israel has ever had,” she told AFP.

Lapid, a 58-year-old former TV presenter who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party, has seen signs of growing support during his brief tenure as interim prime minister.

He received US President Joe Biden, met French Emmanuel Macron in Paris and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, and struck a maritime border agreement with hostile northern neighbor Lebanon.

Lapid also oversaw a three-day army operation against Islamic Jihad militants in the blockaded Gaza Strip, which many Israelis considered successful.

– scramble for seats –

“Lapid chose to observe this election from above, from the Prime Minister’s Presidency,” wrote columnist Nahum Barnea in the leading daily Yediot Ahronot.

“He chose to let everyone else scurry around, sweat, get their hands dirty and make mistakes while playing the responsible adult role.

“This dovish stance helped bolster Yesh Atid in the polls, but it did not help the anti-Bibi bloc.”

Polls late last week showed Yesh Atid would win 24 seats, which would be a record for the party as an individual list.

But the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s path to 61 seats also remains unclear and would almost certainly require another fragile agreement among ideological opponents.

Under Israel’s proportional representation system, lists must cross a threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote to secure the minimum four seats — a hurdle that can derail coalition calculations.

Some polls suggest that the three Arab-led parties that have chosen not to run as a united bloc are each teetering on the line that could see them thrown out of parliament.

Such an outcome could tip the balance of power in Netanyahu’s favor.

Netanyahu, a tireless activist, rallied Likud supporters at a local theater in the northern town of Migdal Haemek on Sunday.

He called for a strong Likud turnout on election day, telling his supporters, “I beg you go to all your friends, all your neighbors, all your relatives and tell them no one is staying home.”

More to explorer