Israel’s Netanyahu Staves Off Newbie Challenge
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greets supporters in Tel Aviv on election night in April 2019. (Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Israel’s Netanyahu Staves Off Newbie Challenge

Seemingly positioned to enter an unprecedented fifth term as Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu strode to the microphones at the site of his Likud Party’s election-night festivities and claimed victory for his party and himself. What made the moment different from past triumphs was that his opponent, former army chief-of-staff Benny Gantz, had already claimed victory at his party’s festive venue some two hours earlier. While on the battlefield creating facts on the ground is a sound strategy, many observers saw Gantz’s premature presentation as another novice mistake. With three exit polls in play, Gantz embraced the one most favorable to his cause and ignored the other two – both of which left the door open to a Netanyahu win. Underestimating “Bibi” has never been a formula for success in Israeli politics. Israel’s system of proportional representation requires the victorious party to not only win the greatest number of seats in parliament – a point Gantz mis-stated in his victory speech – but it must be clearly capable of forming a coalition of 61 or more seats. By the time 97% of the ballots had been counted, Netanyahu’s Likud projected a comfortable “over-60-seats” margin while Gantz’s Blue-and-White alliance maxed out at 55. Victory: the experienced veteran over the inexperienced novice. Nevertheless, amassing at least 35 seats is not an insignificant achievement and means Gantz has the bona fides to build into a leadership position. If the results stand and notwithstanding his vows to the contrary, many Israelis anticipate the general’s on-the-job experience will begin with a seat in the new cabinet.

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