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By: Dave Gordon

Despite uncertain poll results, bad press, and trouble with the courts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a decisive victory in Israel’s April elections. Netanyahu ispoised to become the longest serving head of state in Israeli history, after David Ben Gurion.

Netanyahu is guaranteed just enough coalition partners to form a majority in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. As we prepare to go to press, the election results are not yet final. There may yet be surprises as to how many seats each party has won in the Knesset.

As it stands, Netanyahu’s party, Likud, won 36 seats, exceeding the number of seats won by Blue and White, led by former IDF chief Benny Gantz, with 35 seats.

Election Night Speeches

Gantz delivered a victory speech to his supporters, relying on early results and exit polls. Netanyahu, more experienced at the political game, waited until 2:00am, after he had called various coalition partners to make sure they would join a coalition with Likud. Only when it was clear that Netanyahu was the winner did he declare victory.

In his victory speech, Netanyahu said that Israel faces “serious challenges –in society, in the economy, and with normalization toward peace with the Arab world. I am certain that with joint forces, we can overcome all of these challenges...”

The Likud’s Rise, Fall, and Rise Again

Netanyahu, running on the Likud ticket, was firstelected in 1996, served for three years, lost to Ehud Barak, and has since won three consecutive terms leading into the recent election.

Thirty other seats to make a comfortable majority of 65 in a possible coalition include: Kulanu 4, Yisrael Beiteinu 5, United Right 5,
Shas 8, and United Torah Judaism 7.

The Labor Party, to which Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Yitzchak Rabin belonged, received only six seats, under the leadership of
Avi Gabbay.

Likud won 30 seats in the previous election. Likud was created in 1977 by former Irgun leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Menachem Begin. The record number of parties registered this election – more than 40 – may have worked in Likud’s favor, with a diffusion of votes to left-leaning parties.

Blue and White (or in Hebrew “Kahol Lavan”) is an amalgam of three parties: Hosen L’Yisrael (led by Gantz), Telem (led by IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon), and Yesh Atid (led by Yair Lapid). Though Gantz was the spokesperson throughout the election, this partnership meant that he would power-share the premiership with Lapid. Each would be the prime minister for a two-year.rotation, with Ganz retaining the title of Opposition Leader the entire time.

Gantz Addresses AIPAC Convention

Two weeks prior to the election, Gantz gave a half-hour stump speech to AIPAC attendees in Washington, DC, in front of an audience of 18,000. Although comparatively few Israelis were in attendance, Gantz ostensibly spoke in order to familiarize pro-Israel Americans, and the media, with his positions.

He placed much emphasis on healing what he believed was a fractured country.

“As the former IDF Chief of Staff, and the future leader of Israel, I know the secret of our strength is based on our ability to stay together. Unity – that is the secret weapon ofthe Jewish nation.
Our ability to stand together should not be taken for granted. In Bergen-Belsen, no one asked who is Reform and who is Conservative, who is Orthodox or who is secular,” he said.

“Before going into battle, I never checked to see who had kippah under their helmets. Let me tell you, my friends, the divisive dialogue tearing us and our nation apart – it may serve political purposes, but it is shredding the fabric that holds us together.”

Meanwhile, Gantz’s campaign messaging often emphasized Blue and White as being a centrist alternative to Likud. He strove to convince the Israeli electorate that he was a clean leader who had never faced any corruption allegations, unlike his direct opponent, Netanyahu. Netanyahu was able to fend off corruption allegations in the end, and it appeared to voters that Gantz’s positions on foreign relations and security concerns were the same as Netanyahu’s.

President Trump
and Prime Minister Netanyahu

The day after the election, President Donald Trump said toreporters at the White House that the re-elected Prime Minister would be a “Good sign for peace.”

Just weeks prior to the election, Netanyahu was at Trump’s side while President Trump signed a proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli sovereign territory. Around the same time, Netanyahu made an extra appeal to right wing voters, issuing a campaign promise saying he would annex Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.