Although the Israeli election resulted in a dead heat between the two main parties, with 35 seats each for Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud and Bennie Gantz’s newly-formed Blue and White party, Netanyahu was the clear winner as his coalition of right-wing parties won 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
The Labour Party, which once dominated Israeli politics, sank from 13 seats to six and the only remaining left-wing Jewish party, Meretz, scraped home with 3.3% of the vote, just above the 3.25% threshold.
The mainly Arab Joint List, which won 13 seats at the last election, split into two parties, one with six seats and the other with four, as a result of a sharp drop in turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel.
There was widespread jubilation when two of the most extreme right-wing ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, fell below the threshold, but they were replaced by a newly-formed Union of Right-wing Parties that is in some ways even more extreme.
The Union is a coalition of three smaller parties, one of which – Jewish Power – was created by the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, an extreme racist whose party was banned from the Knesset and banned as a terrorist organisation in the United States. He campaigned for the forcible expulsion of Arabs from Israel until his violent death in 1990.
It was the suggestion of Prime Minister Netanyahu that Jewish Power should join the Union of Right-wing Parties so that the votes of its small but dedicated band of followers were not “wasted”.
One of Kahane’s followers, Michael Ben Ari, was put in fifth place on the Union of Right-wing Parties list and would have been elected, but the Israeli Supreme Court barred him from standing. Another Jewish Power candidate, who was in seventh place, could still take a seat in the Knesset, depending on ministerial appointments.
Supporters of Jewish Power are concentrated in the settlement of Kiryat Arba next to the Palestinian city of Hebron. The settlement contains a “Kahane Park” with a memorial stone to Rabbi Kahane and it also contains the grave of Dr Baruch Goldstein, an American doctor who became Kahane’s election agent and a councillor for his party in Kiryat Arba.
In 1994 Dr Goldstein entered a mosque in Hebron, gunned down 29 Palestinians as they knelt down to pray and injured another 150, emptying four and a half magazines from his army-issued assault rifle before it finally jammed.
The inscription on his grave (right) says he died as a martyr, having given his life for the people of Israel, for the Bible and for the land. Supporters still gather at his grave on the anniversary of his death and sing songs in his honour.
Netanyahu will only have a majority in the 120-seat Knesset if he has the support of the five MPs from the Union of Right-wing Parties. They in turn might not have been elected without the support of Jewish Power (they won 3.6% of the vote, just above the 3.25% threshold). So Netanyahu will depend on their continued support.
Analysis of the election results shows that the Union of Right-wing Parties won 18.2% of the votes in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but would have slipped below the threshold, winning no seats at all, on the basis of its vote inside Israel, so it is clear that Netanyahu owes his victory to the settlers.
In the last election in 2015 Netanyahu won the election with the help of a polling-day broadcast in which he made an openly racist appeal to the voters, warning that the “Arabs” were being bussed to the polling stations “in droves”.
In this election he appears to have won the election with the help of his television interview two days before the poll promising that he would “extend sovereignty” (a euphemism for annexation) to the settlements close to the Israeli border (the so-called “settlement blocs”) and also to the isolated settlements deep inside the West Bank.
Netanyahu was only able to make this promise as a result of his campaign visit to the White House 12 days earlier on March 25 when he was able to thank President Trump in person for signing proclamation recognising the Golan Heights as Israeli — a priceless gift to an Israeli prime minister two weeks before an election.
Netanyahu showered the President with compliments, comparing him to Lord Balfour and King Cyrus the Great – as well he might, because of the hidden message in his proclamation that he would in due course recognise the West Bank as Israeli too.