Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to hold on to power, winning what will be a record fifth term in office despite a bruising reelection fight.
The preliminary results from Israel’s Tuesday election have Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party getting 35 seats out of a total 120 seats in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). While Likud didn’t win an outright majority of seats, that’s typical in Israeli elections.
Party leaders generally become prime ministers by cobbling together a parliamentary majority with the help of smaller parties. In this case, a group of smaller right-wing parties expected to back Netanyahu seems to have captured 65 seats, enough to give him a 10-seat majority over the rival center-left bloc (the exact numbers could change as the remaining two percent of votes are tallied).
Netanyahu is now set to be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history — even longer than David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, who’s often described as “Israel’s George Washington.” And the ramifications of his fifth term could be enormous, for both the health of Israeli democracy and the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The prime minister is facing a pending criminal indictment on bribery and fraud charges by Israel’s attorney general that’s likely to come down later this year.
And now that Netanyahu has all but secured a victory, it’s possible his coalition could pass legislation protecting him from prosecution while in office, in essence letting him get away with his alleged crimes for the time being.
What’s more, Netanyahu made a stunning last-minute campaign promise over the weekend to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank if reelected — extending full Israeli sovereignty over settlements widely considered illegal under international law.
If he follows through, it would be the most radical rejection of a negotiated two-state solution by any Israeli prime minister in modern history. It would also generate a massive crisis for Israel and the broader Middle East.