Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed as Israel's prime minister under shadow of corruption cases

Mr Netanyahu's short term future is now secured, but hanging over his fifth term is a looming indictment

Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara greet supporters during a gathering of the Likud Party to mark the Jewish holiday of Passover on April 16, 2019 in Jerusalem, Israel. Getty
Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara greet supporters during a gathering of the Likud Party to mark the Jewish holiday of Passover on April 16, 2019 in Jerusalem, Israel. Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to serve all Israelis after being confirmed for his fifth term Wednesday, likely cementing his legacy as the country's longest serving prime minister and leader of the most extreme right-wing government in the country's history.

“I will work for all Israelis," he said in a short statement. "Those who voted for me and those who did not."

While both Mr Netanyahu and his main competitor, the newly-formed Blue and White party, gained 35 seats in last week's election, only Mr Netanyahu secured a majority support from other parties to form a ruling coalition.

Mr Netanyahu's short term future is now secured. But hanging over his fifth term is a looming indictment by Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on charges of bribery, breach of trust, and fraud connected to three cases. Mr Netanyahu will also have to balance ideological divides within the right between secular and religious parties, all while facing pressure from competitors to fulfill campaign pledges, such as his last minute bid for votes in exchange for annexing the West Bank if re-elected. In addition, the Trump administration continues to claim it will propose a new American peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the contents of which remain unknown.

Per Israel's election laws, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin met Monday and Tuesday with parties elected to the 21st Knesset, or Israeli parliament, to determine who to recommend to head Israel's 35th government. By the end of Mr Rivlin's consultations Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu had officially secured 65 recommendations, putting him over the needed 62 seats for a majority in the 120-seat parliament. Forty-five members of the Knesset recommended Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, cementing their place in the opposition. The ten Knesset members elected from Arab-majority parties declined to request any leader.

The meetings, though, are largely a formality. Mr Gantz had already announced his defeat last Wednesday as it became clear that Mr Netanyahu had secured enough support from other right-wing parties to cobble together a ruling coalition.

In order to enter the Knesset, a party must receive at last 3.25 per cent of the overall votes, or a minimum of four seats. Mr Netanyahu's likely coalition will be comprised of his Likud party, the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party and United Torah Judaism party, which each won eight seats, the Union of Right Wing Parties and Jewish Home party, each with five seats, and Kulanu, which gained four seats.

Noticeably absent from the room is the New Right Party, led by Netanyahu competitors Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Bennett and Shaked split from the Jewish Home party over ideological differences and to form their own party to take on Mr Netanyahu from the right. Ultimately, however, they failed to pass the threshold of votes needed to enter the Knesset.

The Central Elections Committee published final election results Tuesday night. Mr Netanyahu will be formally sworn in on April 30.

Mr Netanyahu served his first term as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999. He won his next election in 2009 and has been re-elected three times since.

At his swearing in 2009, Mr Netanyahu did not mention a two-state solution, which he has long opposed, but told the Palestinian leadership "if you really want peace, we can achieve peace."

This time around his language has been far from conciliatory: his campaign repeatedly lambasted his opponents, left-leaning Israelis, and Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Still, the exact makeup of his government, such as who will head which ministry, remains to be seen. In a last minute re-election bid, Mr Netanyahu pushed through a coalition of three extreme-right and fringe parties, including Jewish Power, a Jewish supremacy party and offshoot of designated terrorist Meir Kahane. Mr Netanyahu reportedly offered two ministries to leaders of the two other parties in exchange for aligning with Jewish Power, though it's unclear if he will follow through on that promise.

Mr Netanyahu has also reportedly been in talks with his coalition about pushing through a law providing him legal immunity from persecution while prime minister.

If Mr Netanyahu remains in the role after July 16, he will succeed David Ben-Gurion as the longest serving prime minister in Israel's history.

Updated: April 17, 2019 09:45 PM

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