(Jerusalem, Israel) — For most of the night, it was too close to call.
But in a stunning turn of events, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and his Likud Party surged from behind in the wee hours of the morning, stunning the press, the pundits, and millions of his fellow citizens who went to bed thinking his career might be finished.
Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, as he has done so many times before, Netanyahu defied all predictions — including his own — that the end was near. He and the Likud Party won 35 seats in the next session of the Knesset (parliament). This represented a net gain of five seats, Likud’s best showing since 2003 when they held 38 seats, all but assuring Bibi that he will remain Israel’s Prime Minister.
With 97% of the vote counted, it appears that Bibi’s main challenger — former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, centrist leader Yair Lapid, and their Blue & White Party — also won 35 seats. This was a huge and dramatic success for the newly-founded political party. In their maiden effort, they captured more than one-quarter of the Knesset and believed for most of yesterday evening that they were on track to unseat Bibi. Indeed, around 1:00am local time, Gantz delivered a victory speech on live national television.
But in the end, Blue & White’s effort to deliver “change” wasn’t enough.
The reason? The center-right bloc of parties, including Israel’s Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox religious parties, won at least 65 seats. The leaders of these parties have long been loyal to Bibi. Overnight, most publicly indicated that they prefer Netanyahu to remain in his post.
Barring some unforeseen twist, therefore, Bibi — who has already served 13 total years as Israel’s premier, including the last ten consecutive years — appears on track to become the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history, outlasting even the country’s founder, David Ben Gurion.
That said, as I wrote on Monday, Netanyahu’s legal troubles remain, and are gravely serious. He faces a judicial hearing in July. Unless Bibi’s lawyers can get the cases dismissed, the three indictments against him in three separate criminal corruption cases will become final.
At that point, Netanyahu’s governing coalition could face new problems, even unraveling. Moshe Kahlon, leader of the Kulanu Party and Israel’s current Finance Minister, said last month that if Netanyahu’s indictments are finalized in July, he and his team would have to resign. If they keep to that threat, they would complicate Bibi’s coalition math. If another party also refused to serve with a fully-indicted premier, the coalition could collapse.
To be sure, expect many plot twists and turns in the days and weeks ahead,. Among them: President Trump promises to unveil his “deal of the century” peace plan soon, which could put new stresses on the P.M. and his governing coalition. Please continue keeping Israel’s leaders and people — Jews and Arabs — in your prayers during this critical time, and as always, please keep praying for the peace of Jerusalem.
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