"The international stature of Netanyahu is his main asset"

Tel Aviv, 16 September. CORINNA KERN / REUTERS

Israelis go to the polls for the second time in five months, Tuesday, September 17, to decide the fate of Benyamin Netanyahu. In the legislative elections of April 2019, the Likud and the Blue White centrist party had each won 35 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin had mandated Netanyahu to form a coalition government. But unable to do so, he dissolved the Parliament and called for a new ballot. Both parties are now credited with 32 seats each. The results of their potential allies – the right and the religious parties for Benyamin Netanyahu and the left and the Arab parties for Benny Gantz – should be decisive. Louis Imbert, correspondent of the World in Jerusalem, answered the questions of Internet users of Monde.fr.

Paulux: Why elections today, while the last ones are from April?

Louis Imbert: A large part of the voters still wonder. The parties concentrated their campaign in just two weeks, so as not to add to this fatigue. But attendance this morning at 10 am was surprisingly strong.

In April, Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to form a government – blocked by his old ally Avidgor Lieberman, who intended to force him to pass a law facilitating the conscription of ultraorthodox in the army – the national melting pot. Likud parliamentarians resigned as one man. This new vote turned in the referendum: for or against Mr. Netanyahu, who has exercised the power continuously since 2009. No issue, no debate outside that one.

Viktorix: What are the forces involved? Is a liberal or leftist opposition likely?

L. I.: The left is in the fields. Extinct. Invisible in the countryside. The Labor Party, which led the country during its first decades, might not pass 3.25%, which guarantee to enter Parliament. The opposition to Mr. Netanyahu is embodied by his former ally, Mr. Lieberman, who tries to capitalize on the very old feud between religious and secular, denouncing the alliance "Cursed" of Mr. Netanyahu with the ultraorthodox parties.

Its main competitor, the Blue White movement led by former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, which is on par with the Likud in the polls, hopes to win the bet. He strives to take no prominent position, to return the ball. He embodies alternation and a "Sanitation" of political life after "Bibi".

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Sara: If Mr. Netanyahu is again in the best position to form a government, will he be able to cancel his next summons before the judges?

L. I.: Netanyahu will be heard no matter what happens by the country's Attorney General in October, during the inter-party negotiations for the formation of a government. But he questioned his allies a lot before the campaign, according to leaks in the press, on the support that can bring him the Parliament in business. He could be charged before the end of the year for charges of " corruption ", from 'Fraud' and D'" breach of trust ". Result: disorder and general feverishness. His supporters say he could choose to remain in power while fighting for years, until appeal and final conviction.

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Benyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara vote on September 17 in Jerusalem.
Benyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara vote on September 17 in Jerusalem. POOL / REUTERS

Romain07: By imagining a result in favor of Mr. Netanyahu, would the annexation of the West Bank be inevitable? As for the region, what direct confrontations would follow?

L. I.: Netanyahu pledged at the end of the campaign to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank the day after the vote. Then all Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He specified a promise made on the last day of the April campaign. For now, this commitment is an internal Israeli affair. Mr. Netanyahu is still running to the right: his power depends on his ultranationalist allies. But his promise, rushed, unplanned, has indeed aroused sharp criticism of senior military officials, according to the Israeli press.

Israeli control of the Jordan Valley is a fact of life for much of the country. The basic problem comes from the word "unilateral": without consultation with the Palestinians, nor with the international community. The risks are immense, including for Israel: annexation imposes the application of Israeli law in the occupied territories, and raises serious questions about equality before the law in the country. What would become of the approximately 65,000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley? Mr Netanyahu refrained from speaking on this point.

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The Mustached Gypaete: Is the subject of Gaza being addressed in the electoral campaign, and are there different proposals between the parties?

L. I.: No. The subject is not discussed. He is needed. The most striking image of the campaign is the hasty evacuation of Mr. Netanyahu by security officers from a platform in Ashdod (South), where he was speaking in a rally. A rocket had just been fired at the city from the Gaza Strip. This image highlights the limits of the purely security treatment of Gaza by Mr. Netanyahu, who had tried to leave Gaza out of the field throughout the campaign.

As for the other parties, their proposals barely diverge. Mr. Gantz, the prime rival of the prime minister, has tried to project a strong man's image by promising to increase targeted bombings and killings in Gaza. He was the country's Chief of Staff, and led two major military operations in 2012 and 2014.

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Anonymous: Can "Bibi" count on international support in this election? Is it reinforced by the escalation with Iran?

L. I.: Mr. Netanyahu's international stature is his greatest asset. Some 40 per cent of Israelis consider it best suited to run the country – and this figure is fabulously stable. Shortly before the April elections, he had obtained from Washington the unilateral recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, taken from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed in 1981. He had visited Vladimir Putin in Moscow, trip he repeated last week, to a lesser sound.

It is because its international partners have little more to offer it. Mr. Trump is busy elsewhere. He wondered: should it bomb Iran after the attack on a Saudi oil site on Saturday, September 14, or meet with Iranian President Hassan Rohani? He caresses the idea of ​​a "Deal" with Iran, following its withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement in May 2018.

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"Bibi," meanwhile, commented as ever, before the vote, on military operations by the military against Tehran and its allies in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. It has prompted, once again, critics within the Israeli military hierarchy, which promotes discretion to discourage responses from enemies.

Netanyahu remains Trump's best-known "play" leader and his best ally. He knows Washington as nobody, for forty years that he frequents the city. But the White House agenda is playing against him in this campaign.


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