9/4/19 Netanyahu has no Clear Path to Victory at the Moment - History

On Monday night, the Israeli public had a chance to hear recordings of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu screaming at his Communications Minister and violating the instructions of the Attorney General. The tapes are alleged to have provided indirect confirmation of Netanyahu’s guilt in in which the Attorney General already announced his plans to indict the Prime Minister, pending a hearing. In the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics, the Likud, Netanyahu’s party, promptly used these potentially incriminating recordings to craft created an election ad that used the recordings to show that argued what a strong leader Netanyahu is, as evidenced by his shrill criticism of the cabinet minister and his insistence that right-wing media have a voice.

The irony of the revelation of the tape broadcast on Israel Channel 13 is that over the weekend, the Prime Minister called for a boycott of the other major commercial channel — Channel 12 — both for producing the show “Our Boys” for HBO (a production which Netanyahu deemed anti-Israeli) and because a Channel 12 correspondent had the temerity to report on a leaked testimony, in whichthe Director-General of the Communications Ministry under Netanyahu provides evidence against the Prime Minister in one of his pending cases. Because of the personal nature of Netanyahu’s attacks, the reporter has been assigned bodyguards.

Netanyahu seems to be working from a playbook nearly identical to that of President Donald J. Trump. He has been calling the mainstream media “fake news” and implying they are the enemy. The Likud put out a campaign ad depicting two sets of pictures—one set with the leader of Iran and the leader of Hezbollah together, and the second set with two Israeli reporters. Under both sets of pictures it says: “They don’t want you to vote for the Likud—We will see you at the polling places.” The Likud is now equating journalists who report negative items about Netanyahu to Israel’s greatest enemies, much like Trump has taken to calling the media “the Enemy of the People”.

The Israeli election is two weeks away. This election campaign is taking place almost entirely online, as none of the parties have any ground game to speak of. Despite that fact, this is the first election in many years in which Netanyahu’s path to victory is not clear.

The last election ended in what was effectively a defeat for Netanyahu, as he was unable to form a coalition. Under the standard customs and laws, he should have returned his mandate to form a government back to the President, who would have granted that mantle to someone else. But Netanyahu could not accept defeat, as one mean not just ending his term as Prime Minister, but quite possibly, going to jail. So he employed a parliamentary maneuver that has never been used. He dissolved the Knesset, thereby forcing a rerun of the April election.

The person responsible for Netanyahu’s failure to form a government is Avigdor Lieberman, former Defense Minister, and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party. Lieberman's campaign has been based on his call for a center-right unity government, without any of the religious parties, something that 68% of the Israeli public claim to want. However, Lieberman knows the only way a unity government can be forged is if Netanyahu is forced out as head of the Likud.

All members of the Likud in the Knesset have publicly pledged their support to Netanyahu, come what may. Nevertheless, Netanyahu who has been dubbed “King Bibi,” knows that the king has support, until the moment he has none. Thus, he has been campaigning desperately to win a victory without the aid of Lieberman, something all current polls indicate is very unlikely.

Still, Netanyahu continues to pull out all the stops. On Tuesday, he released a recording of Donald Trump from 2013, praising the Prime Minister and calling on Israelis to vote for Netanyahu. Few will pay attention to the characters that display 2013, and instead will think Trump endorsed Netanyahu in this election. Many still expect a grand gesture to be made by Trump in advance of the vote, as an attempt to help Netanyahu.

There is one other element to this election campaign; one which until now, has always been the most consequential in any Israeli campaign — and that is the security situation. During the past few weeks, Israel has been involved in a public confrontation with both Iran and Hezbollah, in Syria and Lebanon. There is wall-to-wall political support for Israel's military actions to thwart any Iranian effort to set up bases in Syria, and to circumvent Hezbollah’s attempts to build an arsenal of accurate missiles. However, the same cannot be said for the public announcements of these efforts by Netanyahu and his government.

Netanyahu’s most vigorous opponents are former IDF Chiefs of Staff, two of whom also served as Defense Ministers, and all of whom have been vocal in their vehement criticism of Netanyahu’s public disclosure of Israel actions in Syria and other places. These recent statements all stand in stark contrast to Israel’s decades of silence regarding its actions beyond its own borders.. The releasing of the names of the major players in the Hezbollah missile production network has been explained by Likud supporters as “part of a psychological war against Hezbollah”. Others, including Israeli intelligence services veterans say these revelations burn invaluable intelligence resources, in the pursuit of political goals.

This phenomenon is even more true in the case of events earlier this week, where Israel carried out an elaborate deception on Hezbollah, to make them believe (erroneously) that their attack had been successful and caused casualties. However, the decision was made not only to announce we suffered no injuries, but to lay out how Israeli fooled Hezbollah. Again, the Likud claimed exposing the ruse was merely part of psychological warfare.

Yet, most independent observers believe that outcome served only one purpose — and that is political. When asked in a recent poll, 68% of the Israeli public believed politics are influencing security decisions — a problematic statistic, if Israelis are forced into a real war.

Netanyahu will fight hard until the moment the polls close. He is flying the London on Thursday to meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Next week he is expected to meet Vladamir Putin is Sochi. Any one who counts out Netanyahu, grievously underestimates him. At the same time, anyone who is certain he will pull another rabbit out of his hat at the last moment, needs to look back no further than the previous election a mere six months ago, when the rabbit never really appeared.

Shifting Tides in Israeli Politics

Together these five political parties add up to exactly 60 seats, which is only one shy of the necessary 61 to form a government. This is only according to one poll and one seat is well within the margin of error. Additionally, Meretz could potentially join which would bring them to 66 seats. These parties form the clearest path to a coalition both mathematically and ideologically. This theoretical coalition would be led by either Saar or Bennet and would shake up Israeli politics, bring new players into public service, and represent large segments of the electorate.

Let us step back and take a moment to understand the context of how Israel has arrived at this impasse and why elections have been called for March 23rd, 2021:

  1. After three rounds of highly contested elections combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, a national unity government was finally formed last March. Two main reasons for the inability to compromise were Lieberman and Netanyahu’s clash of ambition and disagreements on key issues, specifically defense and the role of religion. After less than a year, the current government, which excludes Lieberman, has collapsed primarily due to disagreements over passing the national budget and limiting the power of Blue & White’s Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn.
  2. Both Likud and Blue & White have dropped in the polls recently due to their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, many Gantz voters justifiably felt betrayed when he agreed to form a coalition with Netanyahu and split with Yesh Atid-Telem. Similarly, many Likud voters are upset with Netanyahu’s alleged corruption charges and his constant political games. Likud will likely lose seats to Yamina and New Hope as they vie for the divided right of center vote. Gantz’s political career, full of hope in the beginning, has most likely come to an end. Yesh Atid-Telem, Meretz, and others on the center left may gain seats at Blue & White’s expense. Labor, which dominated Israeli politics for decades, is projected to not cross the electoral threshold for the first time in Israel’s history.
  1. Netanyahu has repeatedly taken advantage of Bennet and Saar and they each have a personal vendetta against the Prime Minister. For example, Yamina was excluded from the current government and sits in the opposition. Saar lost to Netanyahu in the Likud primaries and left the party specifically to run against him.
  2. If either Bennet or Saar can succeed in forming a coalition and become Prime Minister without including Netanyahu, they would almost certainly seize the opportunity. One should never underestimate the role that ego and personality play in politics.
  3. Both Bennett and Saar are running on a platform to replace Netanyahu. Each has declared they will not sit in a Netanyahu led government. We shall of course see what happens once the votes are counted. It is important to remember that Gantz made the same pledge and in the end formed a coalition with Netanyahu.

Having reviewed the relevant context, it is now suitable to discuss why the theoretical coalition described above could succeed and also why it might fail:

  1. All five of these political leaders have a personal vendetta against Netanyahu.
  2. All of them (except for Lapid) lean right on the political spectrum.
  3. They mostly agree on issues related to defense, economic, and foreign policies.
  1. There are disagreements on key social issues. For example, should there be public transportation running and commerce on Shabbat?
  2. A coalition of only slightly above 60 seats is extremely narrow and could easily collapse if just one party decides to exit.
  3. Most, if not all, of the five party leaders wish to be Prime Minister. Ego and personality are certainly strong factors in why sensible governance might not be successful.
  • Benny Gantz stepping down as the head of Blue & White
  • Ron Huldai founding a new party or joining an existing one
  • Gadi Eizenkot founding a new party or joining an existing one
  • Blue & White and Yesh Atid-Telem merging again
  • Yamina and New Hope merging
  • Yamina and New Hope forming a coalition with Likud
  • Yamina, New Hope, UTJ, and Shas being able to form a government
  • The Joint List splitting up
  • Labor, The Jewish Home, or Gesher crossing the electoral threshold

If any of the above scenarios occur, they could significantly change the division of seats between the parties on how to calculate a path to form a government. Unless Bennett and Saar join with Netanyahu, it is unlikely that the blocs will change significantly enough to provide a clear path to victory. Most likely a compromise across party lines will be needed to form a stable coalition. As has been demonstrated, this has proven difficult in recent years even if it is in the best interests of the public.

To conclude, Israelis are going back to the polls as the political quagmire continues. It appears a new potential coalition government could emerge and, in the end, only time will tell how the political arena develops as we approach Election Day in March.

Netanyahu’s Speech to the Nation

I have chosen to ask for television and radio air time, and for your time, to discuss the recent elections, and the dangerous developments in the region. In spite of the establishment media’s demonstrated hostility towards me and my family, they have granted me that time. I thank them for placing the national interest, for once, over their political preference.

As you know, the results of the April election seemingly produced a clear-cut victory for the “National Camp”, an endorsement for the continuation of the existing government, with myself as Prime Minister. However, one man, Avigdor Lieberman, for reasons only known to him, placed his personal interests over everything else and prevented me from forming a stable government, thus necessitating another election.

These last months have been especially difficult for me. The unrelenting, ad hominem attacks against my family, the tendentious leaking of deliberately twisted material from endless and enormously costly judicial investigations, and the mobilization of powerful forces within the bowels of the state bureaucracy all had one purpose: to remove me, a legitimately elected leader, from power, against the repeatedly expressed will of the people.

However, as you know, these pressures and difficulties never caused me to waver. I have always put the need to safely steer our little David of a State through the dangerous waters that threaten our existence. Only this week, the murderous mullahs of Tehran, who have never ceased their efforts to develop a nuclear weapon which they boast would be directed against us, again flexed their muscles in an unprecedented, brazen attack against Saudi oil refineries that threaten to disrupt the world’s oil supplies. Its Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist clients exist only thanks to Iran’s support. But Israel’s arm is long, and under my leadership has never ceased to act to protect its interests, and prevent Iran from imposing its hegemony throughout the region. And it’s been thanks to my efforts that world leaders, from Donald Trump, to Vladimir Putin, to India’s Prime Minister Modi, to the Chinese leadership, and yes, even European Union leaders, have been alerted to the Iranian danger, and to the fact that Israel can and will protect its security. Never again will the Jewish people stand helpless in the face of its potential exterminators.

Citizens of Israel: I admit to you, honestly and frankly, that I had hoped that this election would produce the outcome desired by the majority of the Israeli population – a strong, stable government devoted to the continued security and well-being of the country, under my stewardship. It was my belief that Israel’s unprecedented standing in the international arena, its booming economy and its ability to deter and punish would-be aggressors would be translated into electoral success. I tried my best to prevent the significant election fraud which marred the last elections and cost the Likud a victory, but my proposed steps to ensure transparency were blocked. And yes, as I had warned, apathy and exhaustion among our supporters, and strenuous efforts to ensure that Arab voters would flock to the polls on behalf of the anti-Zionist Joint List were realized.

At the moment, there is no clear path forward towards establishing the broad-based unity government that the country needs. The reason is simple – the Left wants to veto the unchallenged leader of the National Camp – me, as a price for joining forces with it. They want my head, regardless of the upcoming judicial hearing in which my lawyers will finally have a chance to refute the nefarious allegations against me they want my head, regardless of the fact that by law, a sitting Prime Minister may remain in office even if an indictment is filed against him. Apparently, those who trumpet their supposed adherence to the rule of law have forgotten, in this case, the fundamental principal that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. There are those who suggest that I accept a plea bargain – the reduction of the charges being leveled against me, in return for my retiring from political life. However, this repugnant idea goes against every fiber in my being. Under no circumstances will I admit to the alleged crimes and misdemeanors being hurled at me.

Citizens of Israel. As some of you may know, my father, Benzion Netanyahu, of blessed memory, was a renowned historian of the Jews of Spain, and particularly of the horrors visited upon our people by the Spanish Inquisition. As he well knew from his own experience, the judgement of history is often kind: after having been denied the recognition he deserved by his erstwhile colleagues at The Hebrew University, owing solely to his political beliefs, his contribution was eventually duly recognized by leading historians the world over. Great political leaders in the 20 th century have also been judged kindly by history, after having been forced into the political wilderness: Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, Charles De Gaulle, Richard Nixon, and even David Ben-Gurion. In their greatness, they were guided by an overriding concern for the national interest, for the well-being of their nation, with personal interests playing no part in their decisions. As a student of history, and of a historian, these giants have been my role models.

Citizens of Israel: More than ever, our country needs a strong and stable government to ensure Israel’s security and prosperity in the coming weeks and months. The last thing it needs is another costly, lengthy and divisive election campaign, whose results are unlikely to break the existing stalemate. Having always believed that the State of Israel comes before all else, I have therefore decided to temporarily withdraw from political life, so that those who preach unity can now have no excuses. The public will, I am sure, hold them accountable for their actions. As for me, I will use this time out to fight with every ounce of strength, with every bone in my body, to refute the litany of supercilious and unsubstantiated charges against me, while also being prepared, as always, to do my part to ensure Israel’s security and safety. In doing so, I will draw strength from Sara, my devoted wife and personal Rock of My Existence, and from you, the nation.

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Win Number 3: Analysts note that a low Arab turnout could mathematically help far-right parties clear the vote minimum, entering the Knesset and thus helping form a new Netanyahu government.

Win Number 4: Netanyahu publicly — and with a straight face — defends the use of the hidden cameras as a means of ensuring a "kosher" election process. This breathes new life into news reports, further deterring Arab voters.

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But why stop there? In polling stations in Rishon Letzion, widely seen as a stronghold for Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, far and away Netanyahu's chief rival, voters planning on voting for Gantz were shocked to find that all of the ballot slips bearing the Kahol Lavan symbol were missing from the polling booths and unavailable to voters.

In other areas, Kahol Lavan ballot slips in the polling booths had been written on in writing small enough to be undetected by unsuspecting voters, but clear enough to be grounds for disqualifying the slips.

But it was the election itself that provided the surest proof that Israel under his leadership has transitioned to dictatorship — the emergence of the equation under which Netanyahu hopes to trade annexation of West Bank settlements in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The list is endless, from exploiting the return of a fallen soldier's remains for political advantage to hosting the Brazilian president — who stated, after a visit to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, that Nazism was a leftist movement.

In the main, the campaign was marked by a monopolization and manipulation of media. Under the pressure of Netanyahu's charges of bias and with the past knowledge that the prime minister could bring further harm to careers and media outlets, the media pushed back only meekly against a cascade of lies directed at Gantz.

Not only were the full resources of Sheldon Adelson pressed to the max — the preelection Friday edition of the billionaire's Israel Hayom newspaper featured no fewer than 25 adoring photographs of the prime minister — but Netanyahu was everywhere, all the time, radio and television, wall to wall.

At every turn, Netanyahu transgressed the rulings and regulations of the government elections oversight board and received not so much as a single slap on the wrist.

As the campaign regressed into the realm of the scarcely believable, Netanyahu defended unilateral decisions regarding what is arguably Israel's most important single strategic weapon, its submarine fleet — decisions which circumvented and often contradicted his most senior defense officials.

It became clearer and clearer as the campaign ground on that anyone who opposed him and his Likud, anyone who questioned his policies, had earned the worst four-letter expletive in the Hebrew language: "Smol", Left, and thus sub-Israeli, enemies of the people and of the state.

The subtext was clear: Netanyahu himself had become the state.

On and on, the tools of the dictator became Netanyahu's weapons of choice: In particular the diametric lie, that is, accusing the opposition of what the Likud did as a matter of course — for example, falsely accusing his opponents of branding him a traitor.

Polls showed that large numbers of Israelis believed the Likud campaign's lies and bogus accusations, among them the charge that Gantz's wife was a radical leftist, that Gantz — who had served as Netanyahu's army chief of staff — had attended a memorial ceremony for a Hamas terrorist, that Gantz was a sex offender, deviant, a mental patient and a traitor, ready and willing to help Israeli Arab politicians exterminate Israel.

Perhaps most telling, though, was the prime minister's performance on his most congenial of home turfs: The slavishly pro-Netanyahu television talk show anchored by Sharon Gal and Ran Rahav.

Question: How many terms would you like?

"As many as I want, and as many as I can serve," Netanyahu replied, adding, half in jest, half not: "If I can, another 20 times. Twenty-five times."

Only once did Netanyahu seem stumped. It was when Rahav asked him what he replied to critics who said that Israel's democracy was in danger, first and foremost because of attacks by Netanyahu and his allies on the Supreme Court and other basic institutions of governance.

After a pause, Netanyahu's answer was this:

“I — uh — think that the danger is far greater danger if Gantz and Lapid will be in charge — and it’s Gantz and Lapid. Lapid is supposed to be prime minister. Maybe they’ll drop him at the last minute, as a trick. But Lapid is the one running things. Lapid will be prime minister here. Will Lapid stand up to Iran? Will Lapid sit beside Putin? Or opposite Trump? It’s a joke," Netanyahu said, seeming, for a moment, to channel his friend Donald Trump.

“But democracy?" he said at last. "It’s safe.”

Netanyahu casts his vote in Israel's election, Jerusalem, April 9, 2019. Emil Salman

Sorting Out the Israeli Elections&mdashSit Down, This May Take a While

Do you have your scorecards ready? We're going to do our best to sort out the results of this week's elections in Israel, the fourth in a period of just two years (can you imagine that?).

But first, a disclaimer: By the time you read this article, the outcome may have changed. That's how inconclusive the final voting turned out to be.

A shift in affiliation by one of the many parties receiving votes could change things overnight. Plus, on Friday, 450,000 double-sealed votes will be counted (including military votes, votes from abroad and votes sent in because of COVID). That could shift things as well.

Let's start with an overview of how a government is formed in Israel.

The Knesset (parliament) has 120 seats, and so, to form a government, you need 61 seats. The problem is that there are many parties in Israel, quite the opposite of our two party system in America, in which smaller parties are virtually meaningless. And in Israel, although the parties are led by prominent personalities, you vote for a party rather than a person. How many seats will your party get?

In the current situation, Likud, the right-wing party of Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in the nation's history (and dubbed "Melekh," or "King"), won only 30 seats, down from 36 in the 2020 elections.

However, Blue and White (a centrist party), which won 33 seats in 2020 and formed a coalition government with Likud, only won 8 seats (which was actually more than was expected). Talk about a sudden collapse.

Ironically, it was Blue and White's willingness to work together with Likud in 2020 that helped bring about its demise, as the party leader, Benny Gantz, was ridiculed for agreeing to serve in a rotating government with Netanyahu.

The reality is that Gantz never served a day as prime minister, as new elections were forced before the transition took place.

Too bad for Gantz and Blue and White. (One of my Israeli friends told me that the only one in Israel who actually thought Netanyahu would share power with Gantz was Gantz himself.)

What other parties received enough votes to make the threshold for gaining at least four seats in the Knesset?

Yesh Atid (meaning "There Is a Future" it is centrist-right and is led by the up and coming Yair Lapid) won 18 seats.

Shas (ultra-Orthodox, right-wing) won 9 seats.

Yamina (right-wing, nationalist, led by Naftali Bennett) won 7 seats.

UTJ (which stands for United Torah Judaism and is also ultra-Orthodox, right-wing) won 7 seats.

Yisrael Beitenu (meaning, "Israel Our Home" it is center-right and Russian dominated, led by Avigdor Lieberman) won 7 seats.

Labor (center-left), for many years the main rival to Likud but now a shell of itself, won 7 seats.

New Hope (center-right to right) won 6 seats.

Joint List (left-wing, representing Arab Israelis) won 6 seats.

Meretz (left-wing) won 6 seats.

Religious Zionism (ultra-Orthodox, right-wing) won 6 seats.

UAL (the United Arab List, also known as Raam) which is Islamist and is center-left to left-wing) won 4 seats.

Did I tell you that you needed a scorecard?

Now, imagine you're a Christian conservative living in America, but you have four parties from which to choose.

Party No. 1 is strongly pro-life but advocates open borders and is for strict gun control. Party No. 2 is strongly pro-Israel and big on Second Amendment rights but is pro-abortion. Party No. 3 is strong on marriage and family and opposes LGBT activism but is also anti-Israel. Party No. 4 is excellent on the economy, national defense and national security but is radically pro-LGBT.

Which party gets your vote?

Now, multiply that in Israel when you have 13 parties winning enough votes to gain seats in the Knesset and about 10 more parties also vying for your vote.

And, if you're pro-Bibi Netanyahu, because he has been so strong on national security, but you oppose the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, because of the control they exert over the nation, then how do you vote? The reality is that Bibi can only form a government with the help of these religious-right parties, so a vote for the one is virtually a vote for the other.

How is that scorecard doing?

Even the smallest party can make the ultimate difference, tipping the balance of power in one direction or another. That's because, without that party, a majority cannot be formed, giving them the role of kingmaker.

Think of it like this. If you played baseball when you were a kid, not everyone had a bat or balls. So, you round up some kids to play, and you see one boy running down the block to join you, but he's the worst player. No one wants him on their team.

The problem is that he's the only one with a good bat and new baseballs, so you have to include him.

It's the same with the smaller parties in Israel. They have the bat and balls, so to say.

Doing the math with the current electoral results, a right-wing coalition of Likud (30), Shas (9), Yamina (7), UTJ (7) and Religious Zionism (7) yields only 60 seats, one short of a majority.

Perhaps the Islamist party (UAL), with four seats, will join this coalition? This is actually being discussed, but it is highly unlikely, since the ideologies are too disparate. Plus, some of the right-wing religious parties would back out of the coalition should the UAL join. After all, this party represents what would be the equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Can you imagine Bibi and the Brotherhood working together?

Then why won't one of the other parties join the coalition, like Yisrael Beiteinu? It's because their leaders will not serve with Netanyahu. In fact, the various parties can almost be divided between pro-Bibi and anti-Bibi. He has become a dividing line.

If you do the math the other way, combining all the other parties, you end up with the same total of 60 even if they, almost miraculously, all agreed to work together.

That means there's actually a possibility that yet another election will be needed. Talk about a divided nation.

On Axios, Barak Ravid has offered 5 potential scenarios that could unfold, all of which are highly uncertain.

Other analyses, of which there are many, come to the same uncertain conclusions.

So, despite Likud having the strongest turnout by far, they lost seats since the last election, and Netanyahu does not have a clear path to victory. Consequently, at least for the moment, we are left with uncertainty.

That's one reason that, when I pray for Israel, my prayer is often, "Your will be done, Lord!" Who can figure out what is best for the Israelis, the Palestinians and the region?

Israeli elections are as complex and diverse as the nation itself. So, I pray, "Have Your way, Lord! Things down here are quite confusing. Only you can sort this out." (And, of course, He sees everything in light of His eternal plan. All the more reason to pray for His intervention.)

*Note that different news outlets report slightly different numbers for some of the parties, but none of those differences affect the contents of this article.

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Bennett (right) will be prime minister until September 2023 before handing the power over to Yair Lapid (left), the leader of centrist Yesh Atid party, for a further two years as part of a power-sharing deal

Yair Lapid is set to become the Prime Minister in 2023 in a power-sharing deal. Pictured: Lapid arrives for the parliamentary meeting on Sunday before the vote.

People were covered with foam as they celebrated the parliamentary vote which saw Bennett become the new prime minister

Israelis celebrate in Tel Aviv with foam as the new government is sworn in on Sunday night

Thousands of people gather for spontaneous celebrations in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv after the confidence vote on Sunday

Hundreds of people gathered for a foam party in Tel Aviv in celebration of the vote, with many dancing and cheering

The supporters gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and had a foam party, with the white foam contrasting with the night sky

'We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government,' said Mansour Abbas, an Arab member of the new Israeli government.

But in a sign of what is to come, Bennett was heckled and repeatedly interrupted by Netanyahu's supporters who shouted 'shame' and 'liar' as he addressed parliament on Sunday. Several of the Netanyahu loyalists were escorted out of the chamber.

The eight parties, including a small Arab faction that is making history by sitting in the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and new elections but agree on little else.

They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the U.S. without launching any major initiatives.

Benjamin Netanyahu's record 12 years in power has now come to an end after the vote

Bennett reaches out to touch Netanyahu's arm following the vote which ended Netanyahu's 12 years in power

People celebrate in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Sunday night after Israel's parliament voted in the new coalition government

People cheer as they celebrate the confidence vote which has meant a new coalition has formed a government. A woman held a sign which seemingly told Netanyahu to 'sashay away'

A man and woman dressed in fancy dress hug each other as they celebrate the results of the confidence vote on Sunday in Jerusalem

Hundreds of people, including small children, gathered in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on Sunday as they awaited the results from the parliamentary vote in Jerusalem

On Sunday evening, Bennett opened his first cabinet meeting as prime minister with a traditional blessing for new beginnings.

He said: 'We are at the start of new days,' adding this his government will work to 'mend the rift in the nation' after two years of political deadlock.

'Citizens of Israel are all looking to us now, and the burden of proof is upon us,' he said. 'We must all, for this amazing process to succeed, we must all know to maintain restraint on ideological matters.'

Alternate prime minister Yair Lapid, who will serve as foreign minister for the first two years of the government's term, said in brief remarks that 'friendship and trust' built their government, and that's what will keep it going.

US President Joe Biden was the first world leader to congratulate Bennett on his win and said the United States remained committed to Israel's security.

'I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations,' Biden said. 'Israel has no better friend than the United States.'

'United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel's security,' Biden, who is currently in Cornwall, UK, for the G7 Summit, continued. 'My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.'

Bennett tweeted: 'Thank you Mr. President! I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties between our two nations.'

Bennett's office said he later spoke by phone with Biden, thanking him for his warm wishes and longstanding commitment to Israel's security.

The leaders agreed to consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran, the White House said, adding that Biden said his administration intends to work closely with the Israeli government on advancing peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.

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On Sunday evening, Bennett (right) held his first cabinet meeting as prime minister

On Sunday evening, Bennett opened his first cabinet meeting as prime minister with a traditional blessing for new beginnings. He said: 'We are at the start of new days,' adding this his government will work to 'mend the rift in the nation' after two years of political deadlock

One man was having a particularly good time during the foam party celebrations in Tel Aviv and decided to lie in the foam

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday congratulated Bennett.

'Germany and Israel are connected by a unique friendship that we want to strengthen further. With this in mind, I look forward to working closely with you,' Merkel said in a message addressed to Bennett and shared by her spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Twitter.

Britain's Prime Minister also tweeted his congratulations to both Bennett and Lapid on their victory and said it is an 'exciting time' for the UK and Israel to work together.

Mr Johnson said: 'On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to @naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.'

Palestinian militant group Hamas said they will confront the new Israeli government that is expected to take office.

Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the Islamic militant group, said Sunday any Israeli government is 'a settler occupier entity that must be resisted by all forms of resistance, foremost of which is the armed resistance.'

Israel's deep divisions were on vivid display as Bennett addressed parliament ahead of the vote as he was heckled by supporters of Netanyahu.

Bennett said the country, after four inconclusive elections in under two years, had been thrown 'into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting'.

'The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the population, to stop, to stop this madness,' he said to angry shouts of 'liar' and 'criminal' from right-wing opponents.

Ahead of the vote, a parliamentary debate became heated as Netanyahu vowed to 'topple' the new coalition, which is led by Bennett

Israel has a change of government but Benjamin Netanyahu will be back, experts say

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, was succeeded on Sunday by a coalition that includes for the first time a party from Israel's Arab minority.

The 71-year-old right-winger was ousted by an unlikely coalition of right-wing, centrist and other parties who clinched a deal to form a government that would break a period of unprecedented political deadlock that saw four elections in two years.

Naftali Bennett, 49, heads the ultra-nationalist party Yamina - 'Rightwards'. The religious, pro-settler, party won only seven of the Knesset's 120 seats in the March 23 election but he emerged first as kingmaker, then kingslayer and now king as the new prime minister.

Naftali Bennett (above), 49, heads the ultra-nationalist party Yamina - 'Rightwards'

Yair Lapid (pictured), 57, and his centre-left party Yesh Atid - 'There is a Future' - came second, with 17 seats

A high-tech millionaire who dreams of annexing most of the occupied West Bank, Bennett spent some of his childhood in North America. He may face cries of betrayal for forming a government with centre-left partners instead of his natural allies on the right.

Yair Lapid, 57, and his centre-left party Yesh Atid - 'There is a Future' - came second, with 17 seats.

The former finance minister and TV host campaigned to 'bring sanity' back to Israel, a dig at Netanyahu. But the coalition with Bennett will likely be unstable, uniting unlikely allies from across the political spectrum. Lapid will become prime minister in 2023 as part of a power-sharing deal.

Gideon Saar, 54, a former member of Netanyahu's Likud who quit to set up the New Hope party. He rejected Netanyahu's offer of a rotating premiership to keep him in power.


Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured) fought the most recent election by asserting that he turned Israel into the 'vaccination nation'

His supporters love the man they call 'King Bibi' - admiring his hawkish stance on issues such as Iran and the Palestinians, and his high profile on the international stage.

But critics accuse him of being a polarising figure. They also highlight corruption allegations that led to the tag 'Crime Minister' - Netanyahu is on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing.

A canny political operator, many expected him to glue together a coalition. But his deal-making touch deserted him, with many rivals wanting to emerge from his shadow.


Netanyahu fought the most recent election by asserting that he turned Israel into the 'vaccination nation', leading the world in the recovery from COVID-19.

Even as the ballots were being counted, Israel passed the mark at which 50% of the population received two vaccine shots.

But such is the polarisation in Israeli politics that even this could not break the stalemate. Netanyahu was also accused of mismanaging earlier pandemic lockdowns that hit Israel's economy hard.

Yes. A quarter of the electorate voted for his Likud Party, which remains the largest party with 30 of 120 Knesset seats.

While he is no longer prime minister, Netanyahu is now the leader of the opposition. This is familiar territory - in the mid-1990s he made life very uncomfortable for then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Reporting by Associated Press

Bennett, an observant Jew, noted the Jewish people twice lost their homeland in biblical times due to bitter infighting.

'This time, at the decisive moment, we have taken responsibility,' he said. 'To continue on in this way - more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook - is just not an option. Therefore we stopped the train, a moment before it barreled into the abyss.'

The coalition, including a small Islamist faction that is making history as the first Arab party to sit in a coalition, agree on little beyond their opposition to Netanyahu.

'We will forge forward on that which we agree - and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side,' Bennett said. He also promised a 'new page' in relations with Israel's Arab sector.

Israel's Arab citizens make up about 20 per cent of the population but have suffered from discrimination, poverty and lack of opportunities. Netanyahu has often tried portray Arab politicians as terrorist sympathizers, though he also courted the same Arab party in a failed effort to remain in power after March 23 elections.

Bennett, who like Netanyahu opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, made little mention of the Palestinians beyond threatening a tough response to violence.

Bennett, a former defence minister, also expressed opposition to U.S. efforts to revive Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

'Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,' Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu's confrontational policy. 'Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.'

Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the U.S. for its decades of support for Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking after him, vowed to return to power. He predicted the incoming government would be weak on Iran and give in to U.S. demands to make concessions to the Palestinians.

He also accused Bennett of carrying out the 'greatest fraud in Israel's history' after he formed a coalition with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, despite saying he had ruled out a government with Lapid before the election.

Netanyahu said: 'I've heard what Bennett said [about standing firm against Iran], and I'm concerned, because Bennett does the opposite of what he promises,' Netanyahu said. 'He will fight Iran the same way he won't sit with [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid, Labor and Ra'am.'

'The prime minister of Israel needs to be able to say no to the president of the United States on issues that threaten our existence,' Netanyahu said during the 30-minute speech, which went past the 15 minutes allocated to him.

'Who will do that now. This government does not want and is not capable of opposing the United States.'

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the new government will likely be more stable than it appears.

'Even though it has a very narrow majority, it will be very difficult to topple and replace because the opposition is not cohesive,' he said. Each party in the coalition will want to prove that it can deliver, and for that they need 'time and achievements.'

Still, Netanyahu 'will continue to cast a shadow,' Plesner said. He expects the incoming opposition leader to exploit events and propose legislation that right-wing coalition members would like to support but can't - all in order to embarrass and undermine them.

The new government is meanwhile promising a return to normalcy after a tumultuous two years that saw four elections, an 11-day Gaza war last month and a coronavirus outbreak that devastated the economy before it was largely brought under control by a successful vaccination campaign.

The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long.

'A morning of change,' promised a Sunday tweet by Lapid, who would serve as foreign minister under the coalition deal before taking over the premiership in 2023.

Lapid called off a planned speech to parliament, instead saying he was ashamed that his 86-year-old mother had to witness the raucous behavior of his opponents. In a brief speech, he asked for 'forgiveness from my mother.'

'I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it's time to replace you,' he said.

Netanyahu, who is battling corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has been the dominant Israeli politician of his generation, having also served a previous three-year term in the 1990s.

Thousands of protesters rallied outside his official residence late Saturday, waving 'Bye Bye Bibi' signs.

The anti-Netanyahu bloc spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.

The improbable alliance emerged weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.

Netanyahu, who long ago earned a reputation as Israel's ultimate political survivor, has meanwhile tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority.

Supporters of the new coalition watch the voting session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Sunday

Children were among those who were covered in foam as they all celebrated the formation of the new coalition government on Sunday in Tel Aviv

The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, (centre with Bennett on Sunday in parliament) a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long

The new prime minister Bennett and Lapid, who is now the Foreign Minister, were in good spirits following the vote on Sunday

Listed: The agreements outlined by Israel's 'unity government'

Among the agreements outlined by parties in what Lapid described as a 'unity government' are:

  • Limiting the prime minister's term of office to two terms, or eight years.
  • An infrastructure push to include new hospitals, a new university and a new airport.
  • Passing a two-year budget to help stabilize the country's finances - the prolonged political stalemate has left Israel still using a pro-rated version of a base 2019 budget that was ratified in mid-2018.
  • Maintaining the 'status-quo' on issues of religion and state, with Bennett's Yamina party to have a veto. Possible reforms include breaking up an ultra-Orthodox monopoly on overseeing which foods are kosher, and decentralizing authority over Jewish conversions.
  • An 'overall plan for transportation' in the Israeli- occupied West Bank.
  • A general goal to 'ensure Israel's interests' in areas of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
  • Allocating more than 53 billion shekels ($16 billion) to improve infrastructure and welfare in Arab towns, and curbing violent crime there.
  • Decriminalizing marijuana and moving to regulate the market.

It's unclear if Netanyahu will move out of the official residence. He has lashed out at the new government in apocalyptic terms and accused Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.

Netanyahu's supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who say they have received death threats naming their family members. Israel's Shin Bet internal security service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, saying it could lead to violence.

Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while noting that he has also been a target.

His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years - more than any other, including the country's founder, David Ben-Gurion.

As Netanyahu has lost the premiership, he will not be able to push through parliament changes to basic laws that could give him immunity on charges he faces in his corruption trial.

Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing to freeze settlement construction as it tried unsuccessfully to revive the peace process. Relations with Israel's closest ally grew even rockier when Netanyahu vigorously campaigned against President Barack Obama's emerging nuclear deal with Iran, even denouncing it in an address to the U.S. Congress.

But he suffered few if any consequences from those clashes and was richly rewarded by the Trump administration, which recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital, helped broker normalization agreements with four Arab states and withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal.

Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has also cultivated ties with Arab and African countries that long shunned Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.

But he has gotten a far chillier reception from the Biden administration and is widely seen as having undermined the long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.

His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarizing figure. Critics say he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that aggravated rifts in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs and between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.

In November 2019, he was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup. Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.

Netanyahu, who long ago earned a reputation as Israel's ultimate political survivor, has meanwhile tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority

Netanyahu has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, with the last four elections all seen as a referendum on his rule

Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party. A less polarizing Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling a coalition that is both farther to the right and more stable than the government that is set to be sworn in.

Sunday's vote comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which has grown more bitter in the Netanyahu years, in part due to the expansion of settlements considered illegal under international law in the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, right-wing anger has grown in Israel over last week's postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march through flashpoint areas of east Jerusalem.

The 'March of the Flags' is now slated for Tuesday, and the agitation surrounding it could represent a key initial test for a new coalition government.

Gaza's rulers Hamas said that the political developments in Jerusalem wouldn't change its relationship with Israel.

'The form the Israeli government takes doesn't change the nature of our relationship,' said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. 'Its still a colonising and occupying power that we must resist.'

The end of an era: From Trump to corruption probes, how Netanyahu has dominated Israel's politics like no other leader

By Lauren Lewis for MailOnline

Israel's longest serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from power on Sunday after dominating the country's politics for more than 25 years.

Netanyahu was replaced by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid who took the reins after forming a coalition government with six other parties, including Mansour Abbas's Islamic conservative Raam party.

Netanyahu became the country's longest-serving prime minister in 2019, surpassing Israel's founding father David Ben Gurion, after holding the office office continuously for 12 years since 2009.

During his reign, the Israeli prime minister oversaw the unveiling of the Deal of the Century signed four normalisation deals with Arab states and presided over three conflicts with the Gaza Strip.

He also railed against the Iranian nuclear deal, and became the first sitting Israeli president to be indicted.

Benjamin Netanyahu served as the 9th Prime Minister of Israel between 1996 and 1999, he returned to the role in 2009 (pictured attending a Likud Party meeting at the Knesset in March 2009)

Netanyahu fails to form government, leaving his future in doubt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government before his mandate expired on Tuesday night, putting him in the most vulnerable position he has faced politically since becoming prime minister in 2009.

Why it matters: This is the third time in the last two years that Netanyahu has had the first crack at forming a government but failed to do so. But this time, his rivals may be able to form a government without him.

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

What's next: President Reuven Rivlin has three days to hold consultations with the various parties before deciding who will receive the mandate next.

Rivlin’s aides tell me he's most likely to give the mandate to the centrist opposition leader, Yair Lapid, who has at least 45 members behind him in the 120-seat Knesset.

Behind the scenes: For almost two weeks, it has been clear that Netanyahu didn't have a path to a majority.

He has focused instead on trying to drive a wedge between Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the leader of a right-wing party. The two have been negotiating toward an alternative government.

Netanyahu considered unprecedented steps to try to sabotage the transfer of the mandate to Lapid, Tal Shalev reported for Walla News, including falsely notifying Rivlin that he formed a government. After his plans were exposed, he backed off.

Netanyahu has also considered ordering his right-wing bloc to recommend to Rivlin that he give the mandate to Bennett, rather than Lapid. Netanyahu could then pressure Bennett to negotiate only with his fellow conservatives. But that plan too fell apart after Bennett refused to rule out negotiations with Lapid.

The state of play: The outlines of a potential Lapid-Bennett power-sharing deal are already clear.

Despite Bennett's party only winning seven seats in the Knesset, Lapid would allow him to serve as prime minister for two years before he would rotate into the job for another two years.

The center-left, which won more seats, would control most government ministries, however. All government decisions would have to be decided by consensus, and each bloc would have veto power.

The government would steer clear of controversial ideological issues and focus on the post-COVID recovery, the economy and restoring some unity to the country after four consecutive election campaigns.

Yes, but: It's no sure thing that Lapid and Bennett will be able to iron out all the remaining issues and replace Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

What to watch: For Netanyahu, this is a desperate moment. In addition to watching the mandate pass to his rivals, he's also facing an ongoing corruption trial that could eventually land him in prison.

Still, the lesson of recent Israeli politics is to never count him out.

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President Obama did not rush to congratulate Mr Netanyahu, and when he called him it was mainly to make clear where the US stood on a two-state solution and on nuclear negotiations with Iran, just in case Mr Netanyahu had forgotten during his urgent rush to win more votes.

Mr Netanyahu himself has flip-flopped on his comments about a Palestinian state and his call to drown out Arab voters.

But the damage is done. Campaign rhetoric can be dismissed - but this is also a clarifying moment for all those who still hoped for a peace process.

No matter what Mr Netanyahu says now about peace, the Palestinians can claim he simply doesn't mean it.

On Iran, Mr Netanyahu's return is Mr Obama's loss and it will make Republicans in Congress even more adamant to fight a deal.

He also repeated a frequent criticism of Mr Abbas's decision to form a unity government with militant Islamist group Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction.

And he criticised the idea that Israel might hand over territory to the Palestinians at the current time.

"Every territory that is vacated in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces," Mr Netanyahu said.

Despite Mr Netanyahu's comments the White House warned there would be "consequences" for Israel as the US "re-evaluates" its diplomatic strategy.

"He [Mr Netanyahu] walked back from commitments that Israel had previously made to a two-state solution," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"It is cause for the United States to evaluate what our path is forward."

Mr Netanyahu's original comments were made on Monday, one day before Israel's election, when he was asked by an interviewer: "If you are prime minister, a Palestinian state will not be established?"

Mr Netanyahu answered: "Indeed."

Analysts viewed the remark as an attempt to shore up support among right-wing voters as polls showed his Likud party just behind the centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union.

The Zionist Union had promised to repair ties with the Palestinians and the international community.

Mr Netanyahu's remark prompted the US, EU and UN to urge a continuation of efforts to secure a two-state solution in the Middle East.

News Brief: Stephen Miller, Israeli Election, Brexit Emergency Summit

Trump's immigration stance appears to be influenced by adviser Stephen Miller. Nearly all the votes are counted in Israel's parliamentary elections. EU leaders meet for a Brexit summit.

There are more departures at the Department of Homeland Security. The second-in-command there, Claire Grady, offered her resignation last night. And she'll be leaving office today, the same day outgoing secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is departing.

Grady's exit paves the way for Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of the U.S. Borders - Customs and Border Protection Agency. He's going to take over as the Department of Homeland Security's acting secretary. This is all part of a shift by President Trump, who says he wants an even tougher approach to immigration. That shift appears to be heavily influenced by the president's senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.

GREENE: And let's learn more about the man who seems to be behind a lot of the president's border policies inside the White House. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to talk about him.


GREENE: So who is Stephen Miller?

LIASSON: Stephen Miller is a young White House aide who's been with Donald Trump since the beginning of the campaign. Before that, he worked for former attorney general Jeff Sessions in the Senate. And Miller has been an immigration restrictionist since long before Trump ran.

He has an interesting background. He grew up as a teenage conservative contrarian in liberal Santa Monica, Calif. And then he became a right-wing media star when he was a college student at Duke University.

But he got an opportunity with Trump. Now he's the strongest voice inside the White House on immigration. The president has tasked him with this, said he's in charge of immigration policy. He really knows his brief. He's also been one of the most fiercely loyal defenders of Donald Trump on television. And here he is in.

GREENE: Which Trump loves. I mean, that's very important to be in.

LIASSON: Yes, very important. Here he is in 2017 talking about the Muslim ban, which is the first big restrictionist immigration fight that the president picked.


STEPHEN MILLER: Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

LIASSON: So, yes, the president's powers on immigration are substantial. But they also have been questioned by other institutions, like Congress and the courts. And one of the reasons that Donald Trump was so frustrated with Kirstjen Nielsen was that, even though she didn't push back against his immigration goals, she would explain to him, on occasion, that some of what he wanted to do was probably unconstitutional. She was a reality check he didn't want.

But now, with the house cleaning at the Department of Homeland Security, Trump gets to remake the personnel in charge of immigration more in his own image. And Miller will be guiding that.

GREENE: OK. Well, if he's - I mean, he's remaking the personnel and, in theory, remaking the policy to make it tougher. But what exactly would that mean? What would it look like?

LIASSON: Some of the things that the president wants we know about. He wants a wall. He wants to stop the immigration lottery. He wants to stop chain migration. There's been some talk at the White House about creating an immigration czar.

The president has also talked about maybe stopping the asylum process altogether or closing the border, putting punitive tariffs on Mexico if they don't stop immigration. And what he wants to do is find deterrents to make it harder for asylum seekers to get in so that he can stop this surge at the border.

GREENE: That's something - I mean, the kinds of things you're talking about - even without Kristen Nielsen as the reality check, like you said, I mean, there's another reality check, which is Congress, right?

LIASSON: Right. And the president has been either unwilling or unable to make a deal with Congress. But White House officials believe that just changing some regulations at DHS, they could accomplish a lot. For instance, they'd like to toughen up the criteria for credible fear. They believe that immigration officials have a, quote, "reflexive tendency to believe asylum seekers." They want DHS to give fewer work permits to people in the asylum process. The White House believes, even without congressional action, that would make a big dent in the numbers of asylum seekers and asylum winners.

GREENE: OK. So some executive moves that the president could theoretically make here. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

GREENE: All right. Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival after one of the closest-fought elections in Israeli history.

MARTIN: Yeah. Israelis went to the polls yesterday, cast their votes. Exit polls showed a race too close to call. Both Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, declared victory at their respective rallies last night. The question now is who is better positioned to form a government?

GREENE: All right. Let's turn to NPR's Daniel Estrin, who is in Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.


GREENE: So what is the latest here? I mean, does Benjamin Netanyahu have a clear path to victory here?

ESTRIN: It looks like Netanyahu has the best chances. Over 90 - over 97 percent of the votes have been counted, and it looks like the prime minister is set to extend his term. He and his centrist challenger, the retired general, Benny Gantz, were tied in the number of seats they won so far, as the votes have been counted.

But to become prime minister, you need to form a coalition of parties that adds up to a majority in parliament. And there is a clear majority, so far, of right-wing parties that won. And that would make it easiest for Netanyahu to form the government.

GREENE: What did this election feel like on the streets, I mean, as you were speaking with Israelis as they were voting yesterday?

ESTRIN: It was really interesting. I think, when I spoke to people voting for Gantz, the centrist, they seemed resigned to the fact that he didn't have a great chance of unseating Netanyahu. But they thought, well, if anyone had a chance to do it, he would. And here's what a left-wing voter, a 43-year-old woman named Yael Levine (ph), told me.

YAEL LEVINE: I have very little hope, but we have to have hope. We just have to hope that even center parties can move us forward.

ESTRIN: And the Netanyahu voters I met were actually very confident in him. And they said Israel's economy's doing really well. People are feeling secure here. And when I asked, well, what about the corruption allegations that Netanyahu faces? Well, listen to what Tzvi Gudin (ph), a 29-year-old voter, said.

TZVI GUDIN: Right now, everything is clear. For me, until there'll be a trial, there'll be a sentence, he's to me as clear as snow.

ESTRIN: So a lot of Netanyahu's voters said to me they didn't really care or they were skeptical about the allegations.

GREENE: What about the mood among Palestinians, at this moment, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip? What are they saying?

ESTRIN: Well, Palestinians in the Palestinian territories don't have the right to vote in Israeli elections. And Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said that the results look bad for the prospects of ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Here's what he said.

SAEB EREKAT: They want their occupation to be endless. And they want us to live under a continued, deeper apartheid system than the one that existed in the darkest hours of South Africa's apartheid.

ESTRIN: And actually, just days before elections, Netanyahu vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank if he's re-elected. And that could make it impossible for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace deal.

GREENE: So, Daniel, assuming that Netanyahu remains in power - I mean, one of the voters you spoke to brought up, you know, until there is a trial, talking about these corruption allegations looming over him. Do those allegations pose a threat if he stays in power for now?

ESTRIN: They could, David. Within months, Netanyahu is likely to face an indictment. Once that happens, it could spell the beginning of the end for him. At least one of the parties expected to join a possible Netanyahu government may not stay by his side. And Netanyahu's own party could start preparing for the day after.

GREENE: All right. The latest on that very close Israeli election yesterday - NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks.

GREENE: Well, here's a headline - Brexit remains a total mess.

MARTIN: Yes, it does. Politicians in the United Kingdom still cannot agree on a way to leave the European Union, which is why the prime minister, Theresa May, is heading to Brussels today to ask the EU for yet another extension. This is before the clock runs out on Friday morning. Recently, she's been in Berlin. She has been in Paris trying to get support from German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron.

GREENE: And let's turn to our own Mr. Brexit - Frank Langfitt in London. Hi, Frank. You interested in.


GREENE: . Covering something else at some point (laughter)?

LANGFITT: At some point, but we'll have to see how tonight goes.

GREENE: Well, what exactly is the prime minister asking for this time?

LANGFITT: She - well, she wants a short extension to June 30. And the reason is just as you guys were mentioning - she needs more time to find some consensus in this country on how to leave the European Union. She's also under a lot of pressure from Brexiteers here to just get out as soon as possible. And the other thing is she wants to avoid having to seat U.K. members in the European parliament. The new parliament opens in early July. So that's what she's asking for.

GREENE: Well, what kind of response is she going to get from European Union leaders who, I mean, have been getting impatient for.

LANGFITT: Exactly. Well, the EU is exasperated. But we are expecting that there will be some kind of extension. And that's because the EU, as we've said before, doesn't want the U.K. to crash out of this trading block with no arrangements or plans on Friday night.

Also, the EU, though, is going to want to hear some kind of plan on how to break this deadlock in the British parliament. Donald Tusk - he's the president of the European Council - he is suggesting a long extension, could be up to a year. And one of the reasons for that is he wants to avoid the U.K. just continuing to blow through these deadlines, which we've been talking about, and also, frankly, dominating the EU agenda.

Now, any kind of extension would probably have conditions, and one would be to keep the U.K. from disrupting the EU while it remains inside. There's a concern here that once the prime minister - Prime Minister May - leaves, a Brexiteer prime minister could come in and actually try to muck things up in the EU. So there are going to be probably some pretty tough conditions if there's any extension.

GREENE: Frank, can I ask you this? I mean, you have these EU leaders. And what we've heard is that no one wants to be that veto necessarily who forces.

LANGFITT: Oh, no. I don't think so.

GREENE: . Britain out, I mean.

GREENE: . And crash. But they all have to respond to their own voters as well. I mean, we know that Brexit's divided British society. What is the view from the European continent of all this?

LANGFITT: It's really interesting, David. I was in Copenhagen over the weekend, and I was talking to Danish friends. And the response that I got was people cannot believe the bitterness, the anger, the chaos that they've seen in the parliament here that many in Europe really admired for a long time. Another pointed out that the U.K. is Denmark's closest ally, and he just feels really sad about it.

Interestingly, the chaos of Brexit has actually helped the EU's image on the continent. I was speaking last week to George Papaconstantinou. He's the former finance minister for Greece. And this is what he said.

GEORGE PAPACONSTANTINOU: Brexit has made Europeans realize more clearly what they have. It has made people realize that peace, prosperity and a common destiny that we've all been taking for granted for such a long time is something brittle that, if you don't protect and nurture, you could lose.

GREENE: Wow. That's quite reflective about this moment. What an interesting view to hear.

LANGFITT: It is. And I think that, really, in some ways, in the short run, Brexit has actually been good for the EU.

GREENE: Tonight in Brussels, another big decision on the U.K.'s long and - can we say - tortured path out of the EU. And NPR's Frank Langfitt in London will be covering it. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David.


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Outside the Beltway

While the results are chaotic, it looks like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will hang on to power for an unprecedented fourth straight term. The NYT summarizes where we stand:

• Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in position to win a fourth consecutive term on Wednesday, with nearly all of the votes counted. But the race was extremely tight, and his main rival, Benny Gantz, had also claimed victory, though he later tempered expectations.

• When the ballots are fully counted, it will be up to President Reuven Rivlin to choose the party leader he believes has the best chance of assembling a parliamentary majority. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White alliance were running neck and neck, but a count of the broader blocs supporting each party gave Likud a clear advantage in being able to form a governing coalition.

• Regardless of the final result, the election appeared to be a grave scare for Mr. Netanyahu, 69, who has led Israel for a decade of relative security and prosperity. More than a million Israelis voted for Blue and White, a record for a new party, placing it in the position of being the main alternative to Israel’s right wing, a spot held for decades by the Labor Party.

New York Times, “Israel Elections Live Updates: Netanyahu Is on Track for Victory”

Haaretz describes the situation thusly:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has all but secured a 5th term on Wednesday morning, after more than 95 percent of the votes gave the right-wing bloc a 10-seat lead over the left.

Netanyahu’s Likud tied with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party with 35 seats each. Both leaders made victory speeches after the exit polls, vowing to be “everyone’s prime minister.”

But almost all right-wing parties have said they would recommend to the president that Netanyahu form the next ruling coalition. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash, as well as the far-right Zehut party led by Moshe Feiglin and Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher did not make it past the electoral threshold.

In the right-wing bloc, the parties that made it into the Knesset are Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, Right-wing Union and Kulanu. In the center-left bloc, the parties that made it into the Knesset are Kahol Lavan, Hadash-Ta’al, Labor, Meretz and United Arab List-Balad.

Haaretz, “Israel Election 2019: Right-wing Bloc in Clear Lead, Netanyahu Promises to Form Government ‘Swiftly'”

They offer this helpful chart:

This illustrates beautifully the point Steven Taylor frequently makes here about how much institutions matter. Nobody “won” the election per se because Israel has a multi-party system. But even though the two leading parties got the same number of votes, Likud has an easier path to putting together a governing coalition.

In the context of this cobbled-together outcome, I was surprised to see an op-ed titled “Why Israel Still Loves Netanyahu” on the front page of the NYT. Thankfully, the actual analysis from Shmuel Rosner is much better than the headline would suggest. The key bit:

Mr. Netanyahu may be cynical but he doesn’t rig elections. He wins fairly, often against great odds, including, this time, the coming indictments against him and an understandable fatigue with his decade-old leadership, not to mention various other inter- and intraparty squabbles. But he seems to have succeeded again this time for the same reason he has dominated Israeli politics for most of the past 25 years: because when it comes to Israel’s national security, he is a leader with strategy and vision. And that is what many voters want.

In the mid-1990s, during his first term as prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu rejected the assumptions underlying the peace process with the Palestinians. At the time this was considered daringly right wing. Today, it is considered common sense in Israel, including by Mr. Netanyahu’s political rivals. Likewise, Mr. Netanyahu was one of the first politicians to recognize Iran as the main threat to Israel’s survival, and fought fiercely in international forums to get the world’s attention to this problem. Today, this view is also widely appreciated across the Israeli political spectrum.

The list goes on: In 2005, he warned that withdrawing Israeli troops from Gaza would end in disaster — and it did. He successfully resisted eight years of the Obama administration’s pressure to offer concessions to the Palestinians. He quickly forged an alliance with President Trump that has already proved to be of great benefit to Israel. In two years, Mr. Trump has moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and on Monday, designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Blue and White tried to make this election a referendum on Mr. Netanyahu. Its campaign focused largely on the prime minister’s personal failings, the corruption accusations against him, and exhaustion with his leadership. But in Israel, security trumps all other issues. (A poll ahead of the election found voters rated security as their No. 1 concern.)