The political comeback of Benjamin Netanyahu

Despite three corruption charges and a political “crossing the desert”, Benjamin Netanyahu remains a major candidate for the post of Prime Minister in view of the upcoming legislative elections scheduled for 1er november. This is the fifth election in five years, as the country struggles to emerge from its political paralysis.

Israel’s largest party, the Likud held a primary on Wednesday August 10 that resulted in a broad plebiscite in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu. Some 80,000 Likud members voted overwhelmingly for an electoral list loyal to the former prime minister. In the absence of any real opposition within his party, Netanyahu easily imposed himself as the sole representative and president of Likud. The next step is therefore for him to reach the 61 deputies necessary, during the next legislative elections, to form a bloc and impose himself again as Prime Minister. The Likud thus remains the party of one man, qualified as “Bibistan” by opponents of Netanyahu.

Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate in Jerusalem (AFP)

At the top of his electoral list is MP Yariv Levin, an important figure among opponents of the Israeli judicial system, which Benjamin Netanyahu ardently wishes to reform. The former Prime Minister has indeed been on trial since 2020 in three corruption cases. Yariv Levin could thus become the future Israeli Minister of Justice, responsible for implementing the particularly ambitious and controversial reform.

A controversial figure?

The figure of Netanyahu remains divisive in Israel. Several opposition parties accuse the Likud of being under the “control” of the former prime minister, even of promoting a “cult of personality”. “The more you like Bibi, the more you can move up the Likud list. If you don’t like him, on the other hand, you will be ousted from the ranks of Likud,” said Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor in a tweet. Liberman.

Opponents have also pointed to the lack of female figures in the Likud electoral list. For their part, the Blue and White and Tikva Hadasha parties said in a statement that “the extreme and abrasive Likud list clearly shows what the next government will look like if Netanyahu obtains 61 seats, namely a cabinet that will promote the destruction of the judicial system. … and the destruction of the rule of law”.

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Gideon Saar addresses his supporters (AFP)

The figure of the former prime minister is not always unanimous within the Likud, as evidenced by the departure of former party figure Gideon Sa’ar and several activists, following his failure against Netanyahu to take the leadership of the left. He has since founded his own party, accusing the former prime minister of taking Likud hostage. “The protest is therefore present, but it is weak, and the base of the Likud is struggling to get rid of the image of Netanyahu as a strong leader and the only one able to maintain the interests of the party”, underlines to Here Beirut the researcher Barah Mikaïl, director of the Political Science and International Relations program at Saint Louis University in Madrid.

A victory for the legislative elections?

For these fifth legislative elections, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to maximize his chances and thus try to bring together his right-wing religious allies. He has already convinced the Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties to make a joint list in the legislative elections.

However, uncertainties persist over the unity of the United Torah Judaism party, plagued by ideological and religious issues, raising fears of a split. Despite a meeting organized by the former prime minister, party officials are struggling to get along and take a dim view of Netanyahu’s “interference”. Indeed, a party official told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that the former prime minister “was taking sides in an ideological debate from which he should stay away”. The unity of his allies, however, is of paramount importance to Netanyahu, without which his chances of success would be very limited.

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Likud supporters in previous parliamentary elections (AFP)

According to polls carried out by the Kan channel, the Likud and its allies would obtain 59 seats, against 55 seats for the anti-Netanyahu bloc. The gap being quite narrow, a victory for Netanyahu’s opponents remains possible. However, there is one major difference between the two blocks. If the Likud and its allies are united around an ideological line close to the figure of Netanyahu, the competing bloc is “homogeneous” only in its opposition to the former Prime Minister. A situation that does not favor the emergence of a united and coherent government, politically speaking.

According to Barah Mikaïl, “Israelis say, significantly, that they represent a large majority to distrust Netanyahu, not to trust him”. However, a larger movement is missing for one to really speak of a categorical rejection of Netanyahu. Some, even among his detractors, however see in him the savior of Israel, for lack of a competitor who can claim his experience. Especially since the disagreements between the various anti-Netanyahu parties are recurrent. Thus, if Netanyahu’s bloc does not obtain a majority, the country will probably turn to sixth legislative elections.

Three corruption cases

A black point in his candidacy, Benjamin Netanyahu has been on trial with the courts in three corruption cases since 2020. In question, in particular, suspicions of government favors to the former boss of the Israeli national telecommunications operator Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch. In exchange, he would have obtained favorable media coverage. He is also suspected of having tried to obtain the support of the important daily Yediot Aharonot, by proposing in return a law to limit the circulation of the rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

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Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem court (AFP)

Finally, he is accused with members of his family of having received gifts from several personalities in exchange for favors. The police investigation began in 2016, when he was still Prime Minister. Faced with these accusations, Benjamin Netanyahu has never ceased to proclaim his innocence, affirming that the legal proceedings were motivated by political considerations.

Despite the lawsuits and criticism from the opposition, public opinion does not seem, however, to stigmatize the former Prime Minister unduly. Barah Mikaïl adds that “neither his reputation, nor that of his wife, really prevented him from remaining in the Israeli political game”.

An ambitious and controversial judicial reform

For several years, Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to reform the judicial system. In 2015, he tried to strengthen political control over judicial appointments and increase the quorum needed at the Supreme Court to invalidate unconstitutional laws. But this attempt ended in failure. Its objective, however, remains to limit the powers of the Supreme Court, in particular that of annulling laws. Since 1995, in fact, the Supreme Court has had the right to invalidate laws deemed contrary to the fundamental laws of Israel.

If he denies wanting to implement this reform to solve his legal problems, his opponents accuse him of wanting to prevent the intervention of the Court in the immunities of politicians. “In view of the November 2022 legislative elections, Netanyahu has surrounded himself with people who are all, in one way or another, in favor of the reform of the judicial system”, underlines Barah Mikaïl. At the top of the list, MP Yariv Levin said he wanted to “put an end to the reign of judges”. He had notably supported a bill aimed at allowing a group of deputies to restore a law invalidated by the Supreme Court. He also wants the appointment of Supreme Court judges to be entrusted to the government.

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MP Yariv Levin says he wants to “put an end to the reign of judges” (AFP)

Political parties close to Likud also see the reform project positively. In May, MK Yitzhak Pindrus, a member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said his dream would be to “blow up” the Supreme Court. Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman said: “The Likud list marks a step forward in favor of strengthening the judiciary and I am sure that in the next elections the people will vote for the reform of the judiciary. judicial system “.

So, in case of victory, could the Likud implement its ambitious reform of the judicial system? Nothing is less certain, believes Barah Mikaïl, who specifies that “even in the event of a victory for Likud and its allies, the Israeli system remains, in my opinion, strong in safeguards unlikely to leave the country s ‘sink into a banana republic model’.

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The political comeback of Benjamin Netanyahu

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