Ahead of the Israeli parliamentary elections, to be held on Tuesday 9 April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chance of winning is swelling after the United States President Donald Trump granted him the Golan Heights on a silver platter. However, the final opinion polls suggested a fall of Netanyahu’s right-wing party Likud seats in the Knesset.
During his visit to Washington, Netanyahu won what he kept pushing Trump’s administration for, the American recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied plateau, the grant expected to strengthen the Israeli leader in the polls, as he has been under intense political pressure in Israel.
However, not only the US did award Netanyahu a gift before the elections. Last week, Russia announced that its soldiers in Syria found the remains of the Israeli soldier, Zachary Baumel, who went missing during the war in Lebanon in 1982. The body was transferred from Syria to Israel, where hundreds, astonished and surprised, gathered in Jerusalem for his funeral.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu, overwhelmed by awards, still faces many pending challenges. The Israeli prime minister faces ‘dangerous’ charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three cases pending a final hearing, according to the Israeli prosecution office. Netanyahu denied them all.
Another challenge awaiting the Israeli leader is his competitor and long-time political rival, Benny Gantz. The 59-year-old former army chief who managed to gain ground in recent months, represents in a short time a serious threat to his rival, according to Israeli opinion polls.
Netanyahu’s Likud National Liberal Movement is a right-wing party established in 1973. Israel’s prime minister has been in power since 2009. He also led Israel from 1996 to 1999.
In February, Gantz formed the centrist Blue and White alliance with a promise to unite the country from the division which took place in recent years. The alliance is also led by the former minister of finance, Yair Lapid, and other top former army commanders.
Gantz, whose parents were survivors of the holocaust, pledged during his speech in the Munich Security Conference 2019 to protect the Jewish state. “The Jewish people and the Jewish state will never again put their fate in the hands of others,” Gantz said, adding, “Israelis will protect themselves by themselves and guarantee the future of their people.”
Friday’s final opinion polls showed Gantz’s Blue and White alliance advancing, with a prediction of grabbing 30 seats, more than the 26 for Netanyahu’s Likud, according to an opinion poll in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. However, the poll also predicted that the parties of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc could take around 63 seats in the Knesset.
Meanwhile, another poll suggests that the right-wing bloc would win 66 seats, while centre-left parties might take 54, according to Israeli television. The right-wing block includes the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, the centre-right Kulanu party, the right-wing Union of Right-Wing Parties, and the right-wing Zehut party.
“The Israeli elections will have a big impact on the Israel-Palestine question if Netanyahu wins again,” Nicholas A Heras, a Middle East security fellow at the Centre for a New American Security told Daily News Egypt.
“One dynamic to watch closely is whether Netanyahu – in order to stay in power as prime minister – has to cut a deal with far right-wing Israeli parties,” Heras added.
Heras clarified that far right-wing parties want Israel to move closer to the outright annexation of the West Bank, in a manner similar to what Israel has done with the Golan Heights.
“The elections could give these Israeli parties a lot more power than they have ever had because Netanyahu needs them to be able to stay as prime minister,” Heras continued.
Meanwhile, Heras pointed out that “Trump’s decision over the Golan Heights was an attempt to give Netanyahu a big political win right before the elections.” But, he added, that “it is already having a tough impact throughout the region, especially in Jordan.”
“Jordan is a close ally of the US, but Trump’s decision regarding the Golan is putting significant pressure on Jordan as Jordanians fear that Trump’s Golan decision is a preview of a US ‘peace plan’ that would seek to make Jordan the Palestinian state,” Heras simplified.
Heras then continued, “Trump’s Golan decision is creating a political crisis in Jordan, which is an unwelcome development for US policy toward Israel and Palestine, because Jordan is so important for the stability of Palestine and the broader Middle East.”
Heras projected that Israel’s elections “could give Netanyahu a win, empower far-right Israeli groups, lead to the de facto annexation of the West Bank by Israel, and undermine Jordan’s stability.”
“That would be a nightmare scenario for the United States, but perhaps not for the Trump team which has been so pro-Netanyahu and pro-Likud,” Heras concluded.
Deal of the Century
As Trump’s administration is expected to make an announcement of what becomes known as ‘the Deal of Century,’ following the Israeli general election, many expectations have been raised regarding the details of the pact.
Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt are the officials responsible for drafting the so-called peace plan which aims to tackle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“Of course, the results of the Israeli elections would affect the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian cause,” Samir Ghattas, an expert in Palestinian affairs and director of the Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies told DNE.
Ghattas stated that despite Gantz advance against the Likud, the right-wing bloc is expected to take around 64 seats in the Knesset, according to final polls, compared to around 56 seats for centre-left parties. Thus, it is possible that Netanyahu would form the new cabinet once more, Ghattas noted.
“Recent polls also suggested that Arab parties, including the Arab-Israeli party Raam-Taal headed by Ahmad Tibi, will take 6 seats,” Ghatts said. He added that if Gantz and the Arab parties accept to unite together to form the new government, they would have 62 seats, which are enough to form the government, as the Knesset requires 61 seats to form the cabinet.
However, Ghattas said such alliance seems unlikely and very difficult. “But it is not impossible,” he noted.
Regarding Netanyahu’s chance in staying in power, Ghattas voiced that the prime minister has recently received many gifts from Trump and Putin, which enhanced his standing in the elections. Those grants are the Golan Heights and the body of the Israeli soldier who died 37 years ago. However, Netanyahu still faces charges of corruption, Ghattas said.
Ghattas noted that one of those cases is related to Egypt, referring to the German submarine deal. Seven people-Netanyahu’s allies-have been arrested over charges of bribery, tax fraud, and money laundering in deals worth over €1.5bn.
The deal was to buy Dolphin submarines and patrol corvettes from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany. Recently, the Israeli prosecution said that it is considering opening a criminal investigation against Netanyahu over profits from shares he purchased in a steel factory in Texas.
Back to Trump’s peace plan, Ghattas argued that the deal is very clear, despite the fact that its details have not yet been announced. “The deal is that Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are under Israeli sovereignty, as well as tackling the issue of Palestinian refugees through four factors,” Ghattas revealed.
The first is the cutting of the aids to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Secondly, redefining the definition of a ‘Palestinian refugee’.
Israel wants the definition to only include the refugee who was displaced in 1948. This would not include the new generations, the sons and the grandchildren, Gattas highlighted.
“Only those refugees will get compensation or have the option to return home,” Gattas noted.
The third factor, Ghattas continued, is through putting pressure on Arab countries which host large numbers of Palestinian refugees, to either give them the nationalities or settle them in these countries, including Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, Ghattas noted.
The fourth factor is allowing Gaza to be a Palestinian ministate under Hamas’s rule, Ghattas forecasted. He mentioned that there is an old project to expand Gaza through including parts of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Furthermore, Ghattas noted that the old project, presented in 2005, was to renounce some area of the peninsula to the strip, through giving up its sovereignty over those lands to Palestinians to establish their state. However, new amendments were set to this plan, Ghattas said, adding that the expansion project will include 1,000 sq km in South Sinai without renouncing the Egyptian sovereignty and to be a free industrial zone as part of the megacity called Neom.
In a recent interview with the Yisrael Hayom daily on Friday, Netanyahu voiced that he told Trump that he would never allow any Jewish settler to be evacuated from the West Bank. On the possible US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, Netanyahu avoided a direct answer and said: “Wait for the next term.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu revealed his wishes regarding the ‘Deal of the Century’, saying that he hopes it includes controlling the territory west of Jordan, and not dividing Jerusalem.