Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election reflects the ever-shrivelling force of Israel’s left

The five-term leader was not swept away on a wave of revulsion over allegations of corruption. Nor on his programme to incorporate more Israeli settlements into Israel. Nor his erosion of Arab-Israeli civil rights

Benjamin Netanyahu on course for Israel poll win

His flaws, his policy failures and his appallingly narrow vision for the future of Israel: all of these are depressingly obvious. Yet Benjamin Netanyahu, arguably the worst leader Israel has ever had the misfortune to be lumbered with, is about to form another government, albeit, in typically Israeli fashion, with an untidy mix of rightist smaller groups in the Knesset.

It is, in its way, a remarkable achievement, and one that tells us something about the state of mind of the state of Israel, as well as about Mr Netanyahu’s own extraordinary staying power.

After all, he served his first term as prime minister in 1996, and is now about to form his fifth administration – with a hat-trick of general election victories behind him. He will soon become the longest-serving premier since Israel’s foundation in 1948, overtaking the revered father of the nation, David Ben-Gurion.

Still more impressively, in sheer electoral terms, Mr Netanyahu triumphed, albeit with the most meagre margin of victory, against a powerful rival. In Knesset seats, his Likud party has more or less tied with the insurgent centrist Blue and White party. That group is led by Benny Gantz, a charismatic figure with impeccable credentials – a former chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces, no less.

He put to his fellow citizens a clear and inclusive programme – at least relative to Likud’s – for a secure and stable path to peace and progress for Israel and, potentially, for the Palestinians and the wider region.

Mr Gantz is no radical, however. He has not explicitly endorsed the two-state solution, but he has indicated a more accommodating policy towards the Palestinians. He also proposed to legislate for term limits on the prime ministership – itself a rebuke to Mr Netanyahu for seeking a fifth term – invest more in education, allow public transport to run on the Sabbath, and enact civil marriages, relaxing religious control over them.

In the absence of anyone running for election with the gift for brave leadership once shown by, say, Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres, Mr Gantz deserved to win, and deserved to do as well as he did against such a seasoned incumbent and ruthless campaigner.

Yet Mr Netanyahu was not swept away on a wave of revulsion over allegations of corruption and the possibility of criminal proceedings. Nor on his programme to incorporate more Israeli settlements into Israel. Nor his erosion of Arab-Israeli civil rights.

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Rather like the Trumpites in America, many Israelis seem to admire Mr Netanyahu and his uncompromising strongman routine. They evidently feel Bibi is what they need in troubled times; someone who will be tough on the terrorists and Israel’s enemies abroad, of whom there is no shortage.

Many Israelis must feel very insecure to fall for Likud’s solutions, which have not, in recent times, made Israel safer. Not all Israelis are Likud; many also care very much about what has been happening to the country, and have protested and campaigned as best they can against the party, not least in this general election. They are proof that there could be a different way for Israel to make its destiny, one day.

The wider question, then, is why the left in Israel is such a shrivelled force. The Israeli Labour Party, after all, supplied every premier from 1948 until 1977, and has a proud record in peacemaking. In these elections it managed to win about 5 per cent of the vote. In Israel, even with its kaleidoscope of parties and factions, there seems only to be a choice between the right and the centre.

Even if Donald Trump’s promised “deal of the century” is successfully triggered by the return of Mr Netanyahu, lasting peace and security seems to be as far away as ever for Israel. The saddest thing is that old Bibi managed to convince so many voters otherwise.

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