Benjamin Netanyahu has become prime minister of Israel for a record third time as interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid called him on Thursday evening to concede defeat.
The election was close, but in the end, Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing religious parties edged out Lapid’s coalition of moderate, labor, and Arab parties by winning 64 of the 120 seats.
Netanyahu first served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, and then again from 2009 to 2021. He is currently on trial in three different courts on corruption charges, casting a cloud over this continued service.
All eyes are expected to now turn to coalition building, with Netanyahu reportedly aiming to wrap up negotiations within two weeks and quickly return to his former post.
Formally, Netanyahu will only be handed the mandate at the earliest sometime next week, after President Isaac Herzog meets with each party leader to hear their recommendations for who should form the next coalition.
Itamar Ben-Gvir of the radical right Otzma Yehudit party and a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane and Bezalel Yoel Smotrich of the far-right Religious Zionist Party are two of the more problematic members of Netanyahu’s coalition. Most Israelis see them as toxic for their virulent anti-Palestinian statements, and many Israelis don’t like their anti-LGBTQ positions either.
But folding so many disparate groups into a single coalition is going to take some hard work.
According to Hebrew media reports, Netanyahu charged Likud MK Yariv Levin, a seasoned negotiator, with the task of managing talks, and he has already begun reaching out to the factions to start negotiations. Speculation is already running rampant over potential future cabinet posts for the four parties expected to make up the next coalition.
Shas and UTJ are expected to seek to roll back the current government’s reforms, including taxes on sweetened beverages and single-use plasticware items as well as reforms to the system for certifying kosher food. Both Shas’s Aryeh Deri and UTJ’s Yitzhak Goldknopf have indicated interest in the Finance Ministry, though Deri could also consider a return to the Interior Ministry.
“I think if we will win, if Netanyahu will return to his position as prime minister, we will be able to put the issue of Iran on the front lines and we will expect our colleagues in the U.S. also to address this threat,” former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told Fox News. Netanyahu will almost certainly try to get Joe Biden on board for a much tougher anti-Iran policy than the milquetoast stand the Biden administration currently takes.
Biden has expressed frustration with Netanyahu in the past, so the two men are not enamored of each other. But they will have to work together to rein in Iran’s growing ambitions and desire for a nuclear weapon.