May 30, 2024
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April Elections: A Test for Netanyahu and Israel

Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will seek to win a record-tying fifth election on April 9, which would put him in position to become the longest-serving premier in Israeli history—longer even than founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

On the date of the upcoming elections, Netanyahu will have served 4,775 days in office over his multiple terms, just behind Ben-Gurion’s 4,877 days at the helm. “Case 4775” [days] will be a public referendum on Netanyahu’s performance in one of the world’s most difficult jobs.

Netanyahu’s current government, which will have served for more than four years by election day, collapsed this week over Israel’s agreeing to a ceasefire with Hamas following recent violence in Gaza, the government’s inability to pass legislation to increase the number of religious soldiers serving in the military and investigations into
Netanyahu’s conduct as a public servant.

The State Prosecutor and Israeli Police have recently recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for corruption in three separate cases, named Case 1000, 2000 and 4000. The attorney general will decide in the coming weeks or months, possibly before elections, on whether to formally issue indictments.

Those who have opposed Netanyahu have sought his removal for years by hook or by crook. As the hook has failed at the polls time and again, Netanyahu’s opponents are working tirelessly to prove that the second-longest-serving Israeli prime minister is a crook.

Several of the investigations seemingly implicate the prime minister for doing what any leader of a free nation and the head of a parliamentary coalition would do within the daily context of his position: lobbying to achieve positive press coverage, advancing legislation and procuring tools necessary for Israel’s military superiority.

According to all legal opinions, an indictment or even multiple indictments would not force Netanyahu out of office. Only a conviction involving a crime of moral turpitude would require Netanyahu to resign.

At the upcoming polls, Israelis will be forced to decide whether they believe that Netanyahu is truly corrupt, or whether the investigations are part of a campaign by his many opponents in the political and legal systems aimed at removing one of Israel’s most stalwart leaders.

Why Netanyahu is likely to win in April is two-fold: Israelis are not convinced that Netanyahu is corrupt, over and above living the lavish life of a modern world leader; and Israelis generally recognize that Netanyahu has done a remarkable job in office, acting time and again to advance the interests and position of the State of Israel within a chaotic world.

Even Netanyahu opponents readily admit that their foil has led Israel through a period of security, stability and prosperity, while enemy forces conspire to destroy the state daily across the Middle East, and former U.S. President Barack Obama actively worked to isolate Israel within the international community. Those who blamed Netanyahu for damaging the relationship with Obama and pushing Israel into isolation now acknowledge Obama’s efforts backfired, while Israel has significantly improved strategic ties with key world powers, including China, India, Russia and Japan, in addition to making new friends in once-unlikely regions, most notably Africa, South America and Eastern Europe. With America’s new tough stance and veto power in the U.N. Security Council, even Western European capitals are cooling their criticisms of Israel as Netanyahu continues to meet with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Most importantly, even the prime minister’s staunchest opponents now recognize that the obstinate speech that Netanyahu gave to Congress in 2015—lambasting the Iran deal that Obama was lobbying world powers to advance—was a bold move that has paid dividends. Israel’s opposition to the Iran deal was fully adopted by President Donald Trump’s administration. Furthermore, Israel’s defiant opposition to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and their advances in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen has led to unique improved under-the-radar alliances with Sunni states including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Iraqi Kurds that all seek to prevent Iran from further dominating the region.

Opponents readily acknowledge that for a supposedly hawkish prime minister, Netanyahu has not recklessly led the country into wars or protracted security operations and has not taken any bold diplomatic moves on settlements, all of which has built global trust in Israel. At the same time, he has exposed the Palestinians as an unwilling peace partner and corrupt kleptocracy that has incessantly incited and even financed the murder of Jews instead of laying the minimum groundwork necessary for peaceful long-term coexistence.

Netanyahu has simultaneously built up the strength of Israel’s military, including the signing of a 10-year $38 billion defense pact with the United States. His government has bolstered the air force with the purchase of F-35 stealth jets, and improved air defenses against crude and sophisticated short- and long-range rockets with consistently upgraded Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow systems. A previously unintimidating navy boasts a fleet of nuclear submarines and destroyers with more on the way, while the Israel Defense Forces has dramatically improved its application of advanced technology to gather intelligence and conduct pinpoint strikes on enemy targets. In the past decade, Israel has become the dominant military and technological superpower in the region.

On the civilian front, Netanyahu has exploited natural-gas resources and brought them to shore, powering Israel’s electric grid and reducing reliance on coal. The government has built water-desalination plants that now provide Israel with more than 50 percent of its drinking water. A massive and under-reported transportation infrastructure campaign led by Minister Yisrael Katz includes a vast network of highways that are replacing outdated and dangerous two-lane roads across the country. Israel has expanded sea ports, its two international airports, laid groundwork for additional lines of the intercity light rails in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and is nearing the opening of a high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that will link the two cities, just as Israel gets set to move all of its federal offices to Jerusalem.

Israel is a robust parliamentary democracy that rarely sees its governments last a full term. To stay in power for the past 10 years, Netanyahu has had to win three consecutive national elections. And to rule he must hold together coalitions that can become fragile in both real and perceived moments of crisis.

Polls have consistently demonstrated that Netanyahu has not lost much if any public support, and that Israel’s left-wing has not gained seats at expense of Israel’s right. That means that Netanyahu’s Likud Party sits in prime position to form a new coalition government in the upcoming polls.

It should also be noted that during the 2015 elections, Netanyahu pulled out a stunning last-minute upset, earning six more parliamentary mandates than exit polls predicted.

Only upcoming elections will tell whether Netanyahu can overcome his legal challenges and whether Israelis want their embattled leader to become the longest-tenured prime minister in their nation’s history.

By Alex Traiman/

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