Amy Teibel: 'Nationalism and security policies do the trick for 'magician' Bibi'
People don't call Benjamin Netanyahu "the magician" for nothing. The attorney general had already served notice that he plans to indict the Israeli prime minister on multiple counts of bribery and fraud. A popular former military chief with a reputation for integrity had convinced many in Israel their leader had to go. But the scandals weren't enough to sink Netanyahu's bid to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister. His nationalist base rallied to his aid, cushioning him against likely charges.
If current trends hold, he'll have led Likud to one of its best showings ever in closely-fought elections. Israel's shekel was virtually unchanged by midday yesterday.
With 98pc of votes counted, Netanyahu's alliance with right-wing parties gave him a clear path to form the next government.
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"People say: I don't care if he is corrupt or not, I don't care if he took a few cigars or presents, the main thing is that from my point of view, the economy is growing and there is security," said Erez Cohen, a senior lecturer at Ariel University.
The result could ripple across a volatile region. Peacemaking with the Palestinians has stalled under Netanyahu's watch; instead he opted to improve Israel's ties with Gulf Arab states by leveraging a shared distrust of Iran. A US peace plan, which the Trump administration says will present new solutions to break the impasse, is expected to be unveiled soon.
'Bibi' pitched for right-wing voters who might be tempted to back other nationalist factions, suggesting he could annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank that Palestinians want for the heartland of a future state.
Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran official from the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said Israelis had chosen racism and permanent conflict. "They have chosen an overwhelmingly right-wing, xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them," she said. "Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid."
The final tally was unlikely to be announced until today, as about 200,000 votes cast by Israeli soldiers could take longer to filter through and produce some last-minute surprises. After declaring victory early on Tuesday night, former general Benny Gantz's Blue and White party watched as the numbers turned against them. By morning, Gantz admitted the odds were not in his favour. The 38-year-military veteran entered politics in late December, building his bloc into a powerful insurgency.
"We will not stand down from our civil duty to represent over a million citizens who searched for an alternative. We have a reason to be proud," Gantz wrote.
The contest was the political fight of Netanyahu's life. He faced a tough challenge from Gantz, who offered the security credentials prized by Israelis and a clean-hands image, but lacked the political experience the prime minister has accrued in a combined 13 years in office.