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With Re-Election Win, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Can Build A Right-Wing Government


After elections yesterday, it looks like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is headed for a fourth consecutive term. In a moment, we'll hear more about Netanyahu's decade of leadership. First, his main challenger, retired general and centrist candidate Benny Gantz has conceded. And Netanyahu can now look towards smaller right-wing parties to build a new, more conservative government.

To talk about how that works and what it means, NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.


SHAPIRO: You've been talking to voters and analysts today. What's the message that the Israeli electorate was trying to send with this vote?

ESTRIN: I think Israelis are saying, we want Netanyahu to continue. His party and his right-wing allies got the most votes. And it appears that all the parties in his previous government will be in his new one with some very, very significant differences. The moderate right party that used to be aligned with Netanyahu and is expected to continue to be aligned with him is much smaller. Meanwhile, ultra-orthodox parties grew in number in terms of the number of lawmakers, and far-right politicians are more prominent. And that's worrying a voter we met at the beach. His name is Nick Kolyohin. He's in Tel Aviv. And he says he sees Israel going in a direction he doesn't like.

NICK KOLYOHIN: It looks like the country will be more religious, more extreme, more militant and not willing to go for a peace agreement.

ESTRIN: But I met a lot of voters who supported Netanyahu and who think Israel's situation has never been better. They see a great economy. They see Netanyahu jetting off to meet Putin and Trump. And they see less Palestinian violence in the last decade under Netanyahu. They don't see anyone in his league. And even though he faces corruption allegations, they're not really concerned with that. Take a listen to Svide Godeen (ph).

SVIDE GODEEN: Right now everything is clear. Until will be a trial, will be a sentence, he's - to me, is as clear as snow.

SHAPIRO: Daniel, explain how this works. You say all the parties in Netanyahu's previous government will be in his new one. This is a coalition that he has to build.

ESTRIN: Right. His party - Netanyahu's party did not get enough votes for a majority. It only got about 35 seats. And the Parliament is 120 seats. So a majority is 61. He needs to do the math and build a coalition of other parties to reach a majority. And he's expected to do that with the right-wing and the far-right and the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about some of the issues Netanyahu is expected to face. The Trump administration keeps promising a peace proposal if the Netanyahu government moves farther to the right. Does that make a peace agreement with Palestinians less likely?

ESTRIN: Well, we don't know what's in the Trump peace plan, but we do know that Netanyahu's own party and his expected coalition are not interested in any significant concessions to the Palestinians. They don't believe in a Palestinian state. And furthermore, just a few days ago, Netanyahu vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which many see as a point of no return in terms of a peace deal with the Palestinians. So it's very hard to see how any kind of peace plan goes forward.

SHAPIRO: I also want to ask you about these legal charges that Netanyahu faces. The attorney general is preparing to indict Netanyahu for corruption. Does this re-election change any of that?

ESTRIN: Well, Netanyahu is banking on having received a fresh mandate from his voters sending a very clear signal that he has the mandate of the people; the people want him to serve. But it's not going to change the fact that the attorney general may likely submit corruption charges, criminal charges. And so as Netanyahu negotiates with the parties to enter his coalition, he wants to make sure they're going to stand by his side and they're not going to bolt when he likely does face these charges.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thanks, Daniel.

ESTRIN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.