Israel election: Survivor Benjamin Netanyahu here to stay as right emboldened by polls

The story of one of Israel's most remarkable politicians is likely to go on for at least another few years

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There were tussles outside Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, not between political opponents but between supporters wanting to catch a glimpse of party leader and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

About 30 people, mostly young men, were desperate to see the man who was poised to return to power.

If the figures turn out to be right, the story of one of Israel's most remarkable politicians, who is on trial for corruption, will go on for a few years more.

Israel has had five elections in four years, but if Mr Netanyahu and his supporters in the Knesset — some of them on the extreme right — do as well as is predicted, there is a strong chance he could form a government with longevity.

That would give likely coalition partners and potential future ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir time to try to pass radical policies, particularly towards the country's judiciary, its Arab population and the secular part of the country's identity.

Both men are striving to create a more conservative and religiously Jewish Israel.

It is little surprise that many liberals are devastated. An editorial on Wednesday from left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz said: “Israel is now on the verge of a right-wing, religious, authoritarian revolution, whose goal is to decimate the democratic infrastructure on which the country was built. This may be a black day in Israel’s history.”

Israel's ex-premier and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on November 2. AFP

At Ben Gurion Airport, shop staff were curious to know what foreign travellers thought of the results.

“I don't know what to make of it. Perhaps foreigners think Israel is crazy now,” Yossi, 22, said.

Israel's complicated process of choosing a new government is giving people like Yossi who are on the fence a chance to gather their thoughts. Anything could happen. Votes from 12,000 polling stations will take time to count.

The process of forming a coalition government, which, if no side has a strong enough mandate, could take weeks. It is still possible that Israel is forced into a sixth election if this process breaks down.

For now, Israel's right, emboldened by the first polls, is the triumphant side.

On a train to the airport that bears the name of Israel's first prime minister, Oz, 18, was in a good-natured back-and-forth with other passengers.

When he shouted “Shas”, the name of the ultra-orthodox party he supports, the rest of the predominantly young travellers would shout back “Likud”.

It was a tame rivalry. Shas is likely to be in Mr Netanyahu's coalition, a sign that far from all Israelis are feeling the doom and gloom of voices in the liberal media.

For now, many people of the more politically neutral kind seem to be choosing a knowing scepticism when it comes to early predictions about what is to come.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 5:15 AM
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