By James Mackenzie
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benjamin Netanyahu concluded his recent autobiography “Bibi: My Story” with a declaration that his time on the opposition benches, after an election loss in 2021, was a “hiatus” and that great tasks lay ahead.
Published just before the fifth Israeli election in four years and on wide display outside voting stations on election day, the book is imbued with Netanyahu’s confidence that he would retake top office soon.
If preliminary counts hold, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who has dominated the country’s politics for more than a decade, is back and set to form what looks like being one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history.
Netanyahu has pledged to build on the achievement of his last term in office, the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that opened the way for a possible normalization of relations with other Arab countries.
But most attention has been focused on his alliance with the far-right Religious Zionism party and its co-leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement against Arabs and who until recently was advocating expelling Palestinians from Israel.
The two aspects underline the challenges facing Netanyahu as he begins preparations to form a government where he will face pressure to award plum posts to Ben-Gvir and his partners while calming concerns from allies including the United States.
On trial for corruption over bribery and other charges which he denies, Netanyahu looks set to depend on support from Religious Zionism and two smaller religious parties.
Those parties have been more willing to set aside Netanyahu’s legal troubles and critics say that with help from the far-right, Netanyahu may seek radical judicial reforms that could potentially save him from conviction and imprisonment.
In return, he may have to hand over ministries that have a direct hand in setting Israel’s defence and economic policies.
Netanyahu has been flanked on the right in previous governments and still managed to normalize ties with Arab states in the Gulf and, as a free-market champion, oversee impressive economic growth.
But he was also more willing to publicly confront the United States over Iran’s nuclear program than the outgoing government, something that soured ties with Washington.
Large sections of his autobiography deal with his sometimes tempestuous but fundamentally strong relations with former U.S. President Donald Trump, while he will now have to deal with a more sceptical White House under Joe Biden.
On Wednesday, perhaps trying to allay fears abroad, he voiced confidence he would be able to build a responsible coalition that would avoid “unnecessary adventures” and “expand the circle of peace”.
How to square that circle with the fiery rhetoric of his allies will test all his political skills.
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