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Benjamin Netanyahu is set to secure victory in a tight Israeli election after an aggressive battle with liberal and centrist opposition. Although voting remains tied, Netanyahu has a clear path to government via a coalition with right-wing and religious nationalists.
Netanyahu’s historic victory will make him Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. He has one man to thank for pushing him over the finish line: Donald Trump.
In the last two years, Netanyahu developed a close relationship with the US president while adopting Trump’s nationalist and populist agenda.
Trump, who affectionately refers to Netanyahu by his nickname “Bibi,” gifted him victory by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Netanyahu used this controversial move to mobilize his right-wing base, holding up the declaration and declaring:
“Look at this, look at what we just got … this is what I did in one week.”
The victory comes after years of Trump’s influence in the region. He controversially declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, unashamedly throwing his weight behind Netanyahu. Trump also slashed humanitarian aid to Palestinian groups and bowed to demands from rightwing factions in the country. Most recently, Netanyahu claimed he has support from Trump to annex parts of the West Bank.
The US has long been a mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict. But under Trump, America is facilitating a nationalist agenda and pursuing a biased position in the region.
This close relationship with Trump has helped mobilize the right wing in Israel. Netanyahu even hired Trump’s polling expert John McLaughlin to get right-wing activists to the polls.
In order to form a functioning government, Netanyahu will be forced to form a coalition with right-wing or religious parties. Among the potential king-makers are Shas, an ultra-Orthodox religious party, and United Right, a collective of far-right religious Zionists.
The coalition process may take weeks, but Netanyahu began talks in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Netanyahu’s nationalist agenda may be pushed even further right to gain coalition support.
It’s a blow to the main centrist opposition party Blue and White, led by army general Benny Gantz. The left-wing Israeli Labor Party, a former huge force in the region, suffered huge defeat with just 5 percent of the vote.
The victory cements a fifth-straight term for Netanyahu, making him Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. As the results materialized, Netanyahu said:
“The right-wing bloc led by the Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust. I will start forming a right-wing government with our natural partners as soon as tonight.”
But not everyone is convinced. Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official lamented:
“The extremist and militaristic agenda, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s reckless policies and blind support. This cynical alliance against Palestinian rights and the standing of the rules-based international order remains unchallenged by the rest of the international community, thereby reinforcing the rightist and populist agendas.”