Netanyahu is back. Here's what that means for Israel

By Abbas Al Lawati, CNNUpdated: Wed, 02 Nov 2022 14:50:52 GMTSource: CNNEditor's Note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN's Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-

By Abbas Al Lawati, CNN

Updated: Wed, 02 Nov 2022 14:50:52 GMT

Source: CNN

Editor's Note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN's Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region's biggest stories. Sign up here.

Benjamin Netanyahu is set to resurrect his political career and make an astonishing comeback as prime minister of Israel.

Partial election results on Wednesday showed that the Likud party leader's bloc was set to win a comfortable majority of 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, in an election that saw a seven-year high turnout.

Having been sidelined by much of the country's political mainstream, Netanyahu was given a lifeline by the rise of a far-right party, some of whose leaders are arguably extremists.

Netanyahu is now likely to lead an ever-polarized country and possibly one of the most right-wing governments in Israel's history.

And after five elections in four years, this government might just stick, says Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute.

CNN spoke to Plesner about what a Netanyahu return could mean for the country.

What do you make of the exit polls and partial election results? Could Netanyahu make a comeback in Israel?

Judging by the actual results and all the exit polls, Netanyahu is undoubtedly Israel's next prime minister. He single-handedly brought out his base on election day at higher percentages than we saw in previous rounds, and while in the end many of them ended up voting for his allies on the right and not for his Likud party, this is what made the difference and was able to break the stalemate of the past four years.

If the numbers we are seeing hold true, Netanyahu will have a governing coalition of between 62 and 65 seats, depending on whether some of the smaller parties pass the minimal threshold, consisting of his Likud party and its ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right allies.

How likely would a Netanyahu-led government be to include far-right parties, and what would the implications of their inclusion be?

It is very unlikely that Netanyahu will renege on his central campaign promise to include all members of his bloc in his government -- including [Jewish Power leader Itamar] Ben Gvir and his partner from the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich.

Over his 15 years as prime minister, Netanyahu has proven to be a cautious leader on diplomatic and security matters. While some in the international community have criticized his refusal to make significant concessions to the Palestinians to advance a peace process, he has traditionally also been reluctant to change the status quo in the West Bank in favor of his allies in the settlement movement and often hesitated before committing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to major military operations.

This cautious approach is not expected to change. The question will be if Ben Gvir -- who has a history of provocative actions against Arab Israelis and Palestinians -- can be trusted to moderate now that he will be in office and not ignite fires that Netanyahu will be forced to put out.

One particular area to focus on is the Temple Mount complex [Al Haram Al Sharif] in Jerusalem which is holy to both Muslims and Jews. Since Israel took control of the area from Jordan in 1967 an uneasy status quo has ensured that Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at this site. Ben Gvir and his allies have been advocating for years to change this policy. A conflict ignited there could quickly spread throughout Israel and even further in the region.

What would Netanyahu's return mean for his trial, and what would it mean for Israel's judicial system?

During the campaign, Netanyahu's allies in the Religious Zionist Party, as well as key members of his Likud party, explicitly ran on the platform of overhauling the judicial system. Motivated by ideology, they proposed to politicize the judiciary by ensuring that judges and legal advisers are appointed by and beholden to political leaders, as well as weaken the checks and balances that exist between the branches of government by instituting an "override clause" that would allow the Knesset to overrule Supreme Court decisions. For Netanyahu, such reforms could serve as an escape hatch from his ongoing criminal trials, where he is facing corruption charges, but more importantly, it would also fundamentally alter the existing constitutional order that serves as the foundation for Israeli democracy.

This election registered the highest voter turnout since 2015. What does that say?

Despite its many challenges, Israelis have proven how committed they are to their democracy. While we do not yet have all the data about turnout, it appears that in this election both Arab Israelis and members of the ultra-Orthodox community were particularly motived to vote.

Ahead of the election there were concerns that low turnout in Arab Israeli localities could lead to only one of their three parties crossing the electoral threshold. This seemed to have led to an increase in their turnout. Nevertheless, due to overall high turnout, their representation in the Knesset will probably remain at around 10 seats -- the same as in the outgoing parliament.

For the ultra-Orthodox, the fact that this [the outgoing government] was the first governing coalition they were excluded from since 2015 seems to have motivated their voters to turn out at much higher rates than expected. If the results we are seeing hold true, the ultra-Orthodox parties will play an outsized role in Netanyahu's coalition.

If Netanyahu does form a government, how likely is Israel to return to elections in the near future?

While instability has plagued the Israeli political system for decades, Netanyahu's significant victory and the homogeneous nature of what is likely to be the next government, could ensure that it serves close to a full term.

When the final results are tabulated, if the Netanyahu bloc stands at more than 62 seats, it will take more than one or two disgruntled members of parliament to dismantle it. This means that only in the case of a significant policy disagreement between the coalition partners can we expect this new government to fall. Thus, these elections seem to mark the end of the current crisis that has characterized Israel over the past four years.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Iran protests

Iran indicted about 1,000 people in Tehran province for their alleged involvement in nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini's death in police custody, state-news IRNA said on Monday.

People who "have serious accusations, including assaulting or martyring security guards, and setting fire to public property... have been scheduled in Revolutionary Court" Ali Al-Qasi Mehr, chief justice of Tehran province said, according to IRNA.

The trials of those accused will be heard in public this week, IRNA said, citing Mehr.

Here's the latest:

Dissident Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, known for anti-regime lyrics, was arrested on Sunday, according to state-run IRNA. He was charged with "propagandistic activity against the government, cooperation with hostile governments and forming illegal groups with the intention of creating insecurity in the country." The European Union is considering "further steps" against Iran, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday, after the bloc announced sanctions on Iran's morality police earlier in October. Iranian police said Tuesday they will investigate an incident caught on camera showing security forces attacking a man, Fars News Agency said. In the video, security personnel are seen beating a man lying on the ground in front of a residential building. One officer points his gun at him and shoots.

The digest

Iran prepares to send additional weapons including ballistic missiles to Russia, western officials say

Iran is preparing to send approximately 1,000 additional weapons, including surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles and more attack drones, to Russia to use in its war against Ukraine, officials from a Western country that closely monitors Iran's weapons program told CNN. While the precise timing of when the shipment will arrive in Russia is unclear, officials believe the weapons will definitely be delivered before the end of the year.

Background: Russia's use of drones in Ukraine increased in the summer, when the United States and Kyiv say Moscow acquired the aircraft from Iran. In recent weeks Iranian drones have targeted critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine. The last shipment of weapons from Iran to Russia included about 450 drones, officials said. Why it matters: The shipment would mark a significant increase in Iranian support to Russia's war effort. It would be the first instance of Iran sending advanced precision-guided missiles to Russia, which could give the Kremlin a substantial boost on the battlefield.

US, Saudi Arabia concerned Iran may be planning an attack on Middle East energy infrastructure

The US and Saudi Arabia have shared intelligence with each other that indicates that Iran may be planning an imminent attack on energy infrastructure in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, a US official told CNN. A Saudi official told CNN that Riyadh shared intelligence of a possible attack with the US but the source did not give any specifics. A second US official said US F-22 fighter jets are already in Saudi Arabia and available to counter any threats.

Background: Iran is facing over a month of unrest that started after the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman, in police custody. The Islamic Republic has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the protesters through its media channels, warning it of consequences. Why it matters: Saudi Arabia faced a major attack on its oil facilities in 2019 that cut half the country's oil production and jolted the global crude market. The US blamed Iran for that attack. The Iran-allied Houthi group in Yemen has also threatened to strike Saudi Arabia of late.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg not attending 'greenwashing' COP27 summit in Egypt

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg said she will not be attending the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, criticizing the event as "greenwashing." "The COPs are mainly being used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention when they say 'were going to change' and using many different kinds of greenwashing, lying and cheating and so on," Thunberg said at an event launching her new book titled 'The Climate Book' at London's Southbank Centre on Sunday.

Background: The COP27 United Nations climate talks will be held in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh from November 6 to 18. Egypt's COP27 presidency has said protests will be allowed in designated areas in Sharm el-Sheikh during the summit, but campaigners have expressed concern that their voices will be curbed. Why it matters: Egypt has come under criticism for its climate record as well as its crackdown on protesters. Security forces in the country arrested nearly 70 people in connection with calls for protests to coincide with COP27, a rights group said on Tuesday, Reuters reported. They also briefly detained an Indian activist after he set off on a protest march from Cairo.

What to watch

The United Arab Emirates and the US have signed a partnership to spur $100 billion of investments in clean energy projects and add 100 gigawatts of clean energy globally by 2035, state news agency WAM reported on Tuesday. The two countries would provide technical, project management and funding assistance for commercially and environmentally sustainable energy projects in other countries.

The agreement comes as the Biden administration tries to transition the US away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy amid an oil price rise that has seen inflation soaring.

CNN's Becky Anderson spoke to Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy, about the deal. Watch the interview here:

What's trending

Saudi Arabia: #Artificial_Stupidity

Saudi Twitter users have been ridiculing an artificial intelligence prediction that Qatar and Saudi Arabia will face off in the final football World Cup match in Qatar. Users mocked the prediction as "artificial stupidity," noting that Saudi Arabia hasn't even reached the quarterfinals previously. Qatar has never qualified for the World Cup before but will be participating this year as the host nation for the tournament.

Jordan: #Jordan_is_not_okay

Jordanians on social media reacted with anger at the government's plans to raise the price of diesel and kerosene for November as the price of crude on international markets rose. Jordanians took to Twitter to complain about the rise at the onset of winter. Temperatures in winter can drop to low single digits in cities in Celsius.

Kuwait: #Postponement_of_pardon

Twitter users in Kuwait were reacting to reports that members of parliament had postponed the proposal of a general amnesty law for those charged with defying restrictions on freedom of expression and lese majeste in the country. Kuwaiti activists have been demanding that the government turn the page and pardon people in cases going as far back as 2012 that have landed them in jail or had them go into exile.

$42.4 billion

The third quarter profit of Aramco, Saudi Arabia's oil company. The company posted a 39% rise in profit compared to the same period last year, driven by high oil prices. Aramco said its long-term view is that oil demand will continue to grow for the rest of the decade "given the world's need for more affordable and reliable energy," Reuters reported.

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