Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara, waves to his supporters after first exit poll results for the Israeli Parliamentary election at his party's headquarters in Jerusalem

Netanyahu win is set to 'change the face of Israel,' Israeli reporter says

With Benjamin Netanyahu set to return to power, reporter Noga Tarnopolsky discusses with The World's host Marco Werman what Israeli parliamentary election results will mean for the country.

The World

Israel has held its fifth parliamentary elections in four years. And former leader Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return once again as the next prime minister, with current Prime Minister Yair Lapid conceding his position on Thursday.

The coalition that Netanyahu is expected to bring together to create a majority in the Knesset will be the most right-wing government yet for the country. His far-right allies want to overhaul the justice system to give politicians more control of judicial appointments, while weakening the Supreme Court’s oversight of the parliamentary process. And they're calling for an end to Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu also still faces multiple corruption charges — accusations that he's denied.

Reporter Noga Tarnopolsky joined The World's host Marco Werman from Jerusalem to discuss what the election results will mean for the country moving forward.

Marco Werman: Any surprises from the results here, or is it pretty much what we expected?
Noga Tarnopolsky: I would say there are surprises. The solidity of Netanyahu's comeback is surprising. And there's a detail that I think is really important and that's mostly been overlooked. If you count the actual number of votes, the Netanyahu bloc and the non-Netanyahu bloc have virtually the same number of votes cast.
And what does that tell us?
Well, that the particularities of Israel's complicated parliamentary system and Netanyahu's mastery, his absolute dominance over that system and his part of it, have created a situation of this, sort of, anomaly where Knesset representation is not really representing 100% of the will of the people.
For those of us who don't live in a parliamentary system, explain the basics of what Netanyahu would have to do next to form a coalition government.
What Netanyahu has to do is form a majority, an alliance with other parties that will give him at least 61 seats out of 120 in the Knesset. I expect this to be fairly easy for him to do. And then next week, once the results are formally presented to the country's president, he will go to the president's home and he will say, "I have a majority of Knesset votes devoted to me and I want to form the next government." The president will then select him. And then, the difficult part begins, because Netanyahu is saddled with basically two allies: ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, and then, this very radical extremist racist party called the Religious Zionism Party (HaTazionut HaDatit), which is actually an agglomeration of three tiny fringe parties, and he is going to have to negotiate with them.
And that's the ultra nationalist party I was referring to a moment ago, right? What exactly did that group campaign on and what could their inclusion in the ruling coalition mean for Israel?
They campaigned on noise. [Otzma Yehudit leader] Itamar Ben-Gvir, who campaigned, basically, on a slogan of "death to the terrorists," which is shorthand for "death to the Arabs," which was his previous slogan. He's a guy who likes to pull out a gun. He champions an Israel without what we consider the rule of law, where Jews and Arabs would not have equal rights, where, for example, in the next election it's entirely possible that Arab majority parties will not have the right to run. He proposes a radical reconception of Israel, in fact, as a kind of Jewish theocracy.
I mean, it sounds like Netanyahu will be holding his nose in order to form a coalition with this group. Is that the case?
I don't know. It's hard for me to enter Netanyahu's head and tell you if he'll hold his nose or not. He has enthusiastically embraced this party. He created this party, because he was afraid of losing, sort of, fringe votes on the Israeli right to small, insignificant parties. He's the guy who punched these three parties together to make a larger model, and that's sort of turned into a Frankenstein on him. So, I don't know if he's holding his nose, but he's desperate for them, because he really wants to cancel his trial. That has been made amply clear by his allies in his own party, the Likud, and by these other more religious figures.
The results of this election seem to mark, I mean, if we just pull out, a continued shift to the right among Israel's electorate. What is driving this?
It's a really complicated question, because I would agree with you that the majority of Israeli voters are right-wing, but they're not radically right. And I don't think that a huge surge of radicalization has happened in the last two years. What I do think is that Netanyahu created this vehicle, which is this kind of a monster party created out of three other parties that never on their own could pass the electoral threshold and have impact or even enter the parliament, and the creation of this vehicle brought out new voters, some very young who'd never voted before, some very radical who previously had felt disaffected and didn't go vote. There are a number of things behind it. I don't think that the population has shifted as greatly as the political panorama now has shifted.
The Arab Israeli vote had been seen as a key factor in this race. Talk more about that. And in the end, what was the Arab-Israeli voter turnout like and what difference did it make?
So, we don't yet have final figures, but the Arab turnout is projected to be around 55%, which is more than 10% more than last time. The total, what happened among Arab voters, like what happened among non-Netanyahu voters in general, is that their leaders somehow betrayed them. There are three Arab-majority parties that had joined forces in the past and really generated a lot of enthusiasm, and they fell apart as a party. Each ran as a separate miniparty. The general sense among their voters, who are mostly Arab, was that the leaders of these parties were just bickering among themselves over personal matters of ego more than anything else, and that none of them had really achieved very much for the public that votes for them, and their voters dispersed.
If the results hew to the exit polls, another mandate for Netanyahu, will that further disaffection the Arab electorate in Israel?
It may well create greater disaffection among Arab voters in Israel. But the dimensions of the change that I think is going to be coming to Israel are huge and it's going to affect everybody. I think even some of the people who voted for the Netanyahu bloc are going to be surprised by the pace and the radicalness of the changes that the new incoming government, as you say, the projected government, is going to try and push through. And so, Arabs may be disaffected, but they are going to be among, basically 50% of Israeli voters, who I think are about to be very shocked by what's going to come.
I know you've touched on it a bit, but what is the big headline of what those changes will probably look like?
Well, Israel will no longer have an independent judiciary. There will no longer be a separation of powers, because the executive will be able to determine judicial outcomes, judicial appointments. There will be a more direct line between the executive and forces of law and order. We're really talking about changing the face of Israel in a way that I think it will be doubtful that Israel will be able to call itself a functional democracy at the end of this process.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

Related: President Biden’s visit to Israel focuses on regional security

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