For a time it seemed possible that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party were headed for defeat in Israel’s April 9 election. Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party—running from the center-right with a slate that included former Israeli military leaders—mounted the most serious challenge Netanyahu has faced, and even election-night exit polls deemed the race too close to call. Though he campaigned on a prospering economy and military security, Netanyahu was also running under the shadow of potential indictment for bribery and fraud, and he appeared vulnerable. Largely avoiding the topic of Palestine through most of the campaign, he seized on the issue rather desperately in its final days, pledging to annex parts of the West Bank if elected. Whether that pledge made the difference is uncertain—Netanyahu has made alarming promises before other elections, without following through—but no matter: forging a coalition with two far-right, ultra-Orthodox parties, he eked out a narrow victory, and will now surpass David Ben-Gurion’s record four terms in office.
At this point, no one should expect Netanyahu to deviate from the hard line that has helped him make history. Freshly empowered, he is likely to push his policy agenda still further while continuing to stoke divisiveness and fear, aided by a right-leaning majority in the Knesset and unchecked by a severely diminished Labor party. No less concerning is what he might be willing to do in order to fend off a criminal investigation that he calls a “witch hunt.” Some observers believe he could make good on his threat to annex the West Bank in exchange for the passage of a law that would protect sitting prime ministers from indictment. His attacks on the press—he has encouraged wealthy supporters to purchase news outlets because “I need my own media”—have raised alarm and drawn comparisons to the illiberal tendencies of Donald Trump, as has his success in identifying his personality so strongly with the office that all opposition is deemed unpatriotic, even treasonous.