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Benjamin Netanyahu Gets Another Shot to Lead Israel, Possibly His Last

Benjamin Netanyahu Gets Another Shot to Lead Israel, Possibly His Last #Benjamin #Netanyahu #Shot #Lead #Israel #Possibly Welcome to Lopoid

TEL AVIV—The imminent collapse of Israel’s shaky ruling coalition gives

Benjamin Netanyahu

his fifth chance in three years to form a stable government. It could be his last shot, political observers said.

Mr. Netanyahu, 73-years-old, is in a strong position as Israel’s politics continue a rightward shift and his allied parties grow, analysts said. After a year as opposition leader, Israelis have seen what a government looks like without Mr. Netanyahu at the top for the first time in over a decade, and polls show many didn’t like what they saw.

Even Mr. Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on corruption charges appears to be going better, as prosecutors struggle to prove the most severe allegation against him, bribery, which he denies. Judges in the case recently denied prosecutors’ request to amend the indictment on the charge.

Polls show that Mr. Netanyahu is still Israel’s most popular politician, though he remains divisive. In almost every poll, he and his allied parties fall short of a majority of seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset.

“Compared to previous elections, Bibi is in a better starting point now,” said

Aviv Bushinsky,

a former adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, using a common nickname for the former prime minister. “If he fails this time to reach a majority, his allies may no longer side with him.”

Uri Maklev,

a lawmaker from the ultraorthodox United Torah Judaism party, a Netanyahu ally, underscored that point, telling Israel’s Army Radio that his party could consider Israeli Defense Minister

Benny Gantz

as prime minister if Mr. Netanyahu fails to get a majority.

“I think that Netanyahu won’t be able to form a government,” he said in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday morning. “We have never, not for a moment, ruled out Benny Gantz. I think that we will strive for that.”

Lawmakers could vote to dissolve the Knesset as early as Wednesday, and the chamber could formally disperse as soon as Monday.

The outgoing government is unique in Israeli political history, with center, right and left factions teaming up with an Arab Islamist party in an anti-Netanyahu coalition that removed the former prime minister from power last year for the first time since 2009.

As opposition leader, Mr. Netanyahu cast the government as beholden to Islamists and other Arab parties, at times calling it a “Muslim Brotherhood government.” The government’s leaders say the coalition was inclusive of all parts of Israeli society, including Arab citizens who make up around 20% of the population.

In a theme expected to play out over the election, Mr. Netanyahu on Monday night attacked

Gideon Saar,

a lawmaker in the anti-Netanyahu coalition who was once the former prime minister’s ally. Mr. Saar has vowed to do all he can to prevent Mr. Netanyahu from returning to power.

“He cancels me out but sits with the Muslim Brotherhood that supports terror,” Mr. Netanyahu said of Mr. Saar.

In turn, Mr. Saar and other opponents of Mr. Netanyahu are attacking him for allying with the party of far-right religious politician

Itamar Ben-Gvir.

His hard-line views against Arabs, including expelling those he would consider not loyal to the state and supporting the use of maximum military force against Palestinians, have helped him quickly become one of Israel’s most popular right-wing politicians.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Saar told Israel’s Ynet News that “the government of Bibi and Ben-Gvir will bring a certain end to the rule of law and be captive to extremism of any kind.”

Mr. Netanyahu has allied with the party of far-right religious politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who gestured during an appearance in Jerusalem last year.

Photo:

emmanuel dunand/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr. Netanyahu was the first Israeli leader to negotiate with the Islamist party to help establish a government, but his more hard-line allies refused to rely on an Arab party.

In the past four elections, Mr. Netanyahu ran as the prime minister. This time, the prime minister will be

Yair Lapid,

the centrist news anchor turned politician who serves as foreign minister in the outgoing government. Prime Minister

Naftali Bennett

held to an agreement forged a year ago to let Mr. Lapid take power if the government fell.

Mr. Lapid is the clear top challenger to Mr. Netanyahu. Once vulnerable to Mr. Netanyahu’s attacks for being unqualified and inexperienced when he entered politics, Mr. Lapid now has nearly a decade of political experience.

But Mr. Lapid has no clear path to a majority coalition either. Polls show Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party would win between 34 and 36 seats in the Knesset, while Mr. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party gets about 20 seats.

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on Monday.

Photo:

oren ben hakoon/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Ultimately, analysts say, the election will become another referendum on Mr. Netanyahu. He first rose to power in 1996, serving three years as prime minister, and then staged a political comeback in 2009. He has served longer in office as prime minister than any other Israeli politician.

But over that time, Mr. Netanyahu has burned personal relationships with the heads of most centrist, left-wing or right-wing parties now opposed to him. His critics from across the political spectrum say the former prime minister had used his position for personal interests and that he seeks power to either evade or defend the criminal allegations against him.

Mr. Netanyahu says he wants to return to power to improve the economy, secure the country and continue to expand Israel’s widening circle of allies in the region. He has said the abuse-of-power allegations are untrue and the investigations politically motivated.

“People admire him. They call him the magician,” said Prof.

Gideon Rahat,

a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank funded by educational institutions, family foundations and corporations. “He isn’t a magician when it comes to establishing a government and building coalitions.”

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