7 Mar, 2019
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise decision to strike an alliance with Israel’s far-right has unnerved many in Israel and abroad. The truth is more complicated but his goal stays the same: to stay in power by any means.
The looming early elections are seemingly making Israeli politicians more desperate in their quest to snatch precious extra votes. Netanyahu, however, appears to have gone ‘beyond the pale’ in his fight for political survival.
Netanyahu 'is tirelessly working to ensure the participation of a group of racists in his coalition'https://t.co/uhpALnR9EJ
— RT (@RT_com) February 21, 2019
In late February, the prime minister provoked quite a stir by forming what was described as a partnership with two fringe far-right parties, in a move that rocked the Israeli communities both in the Jewish State and abroad, particularly in the US. The Israeli and American media swiftly reacted to this development, producing damning reports on the issue and publishing opinion pieces that accused the prime minister of “endorsing Jewish Fascism” and likened his move to “welcoming the Ku Klux Klan into an American administration.”
So why has the controversial long-time prime minister, who has already been mired in corruption scandals ahead of an early vote that he called for himself, taken such a drastic step?
Netanyahu might, in fact, just have nothing to lose, Amir Oren, a veteran Israeli journalist and political commenter, believes. “Netanyahu could not care less about his image right now. He is one step away from being indicted with corruption charges, including bribery,” he explained, adding that the prime minister is almost literally “fighting for survival, both politically and legally.”
In fact, Netanyahu’s Likud Party has not yet made an alliance with the far-right, at least not formally and not yet, the analysts believe. What he did was encourage the far-right parties to unite to clear the 3.25 percent election hurdle to get into the Israeli parliament – something they could not do on their own, for lack of support, Tatiana Karasova, the head of the Israel and Jewish Communities Department and an academic council member at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explained.
#Netanyahu quits as foreign minister after petition filed to High Court arguing it’s impossible for him to juggle posts of PM, health, defense & foreign minister at the same timehttps://t.co/BlxhKsTXri
— RT (@RT_com) February 18, 2019
An Israeli political analyst, Avigdor Eskin, told RT that “the Israeli election system makes it important for all major parties to compete for any extra votes,” adding that the fringe parties Netanyahu turned to still “represent between two and four percent of the electorate” and the prime minister now wants to prevent these votes from going to waste. “This is just a very pragmatic step,” he said.
That does not necessarily mean that Netanyahu has decided to move further to the right side of the political spectrum. Frankly speaking, the prime minister, who is known for his vehement opposition to Iran and his increasingly harsh policies against Palestinian protesters –which the UN recently described as potentially amounting to war crimes– does not have much room for moving further to the right.
Anyway, his move appears to be a coercive ploy rather than a conscious political choice. Netanyahu, who stayed in power for more than a decade already, fears that a newly-formed centrist Blue and White alliance – a loose coalition formed by various center-right and center-left forces, united almost solely by their opposition to the long-time prime minister and led by a charismatic former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, might actually remove his Likud Party from power.
“It is definitely possible that his rivals would be able to form a government and [Netanyahu] would not,” Amir Oren told RT.
Netanyahu abhors the very idea of forming a coalition with his strong centrist opponents, who would most likely challenge the policies of his government, Tatiana Karasova pointed out. Therefore, he needs to “erode” the composition of the new legislature with some fringe parties he could use as coalition partners, who would not dare to try and review his political course centered on the idea of Israel’s ‘security’.
Eventually, the Likud Party leader might even avoid aligning with the most radical of the far-right forces, like the Jewish Power Party, which is described as “racist” and bent on turning Israel into a “theocracy” while expelling all Palestinians, the analyst believes. What he really needs is to have 61 out of 120 parliamentary seats taken by his own party and potential “junior coalition partners,” which would allow him to form a government even if the centrist alliance formally beats his Likud Party at the forthcoming elections.
However, his tricky plan might eventually backfire. Recent polls project Likud winning just about 30 of Parliament’s 120 seats, AP reports. The public criticism of his decision to align with the far-right would likely increase in the coming weeks, according to Karasova. The ploy aimed at helping Netanyahu win the next elections might still hand him a defeat.