By Gwynne Dyer

Prime Minister Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has put Israel through five elections in four years in order to come up with a coalition government that will save him from the courts.

He is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and the evidence against him is strong. The bribery charge alone could get him ten years in jail. But now he is saved from all that, because his new government will be sworn in this week.

Serving prime ministers don’t go to jail, and his new coalition will probably last long enough to change the laws and give him permanent immunity.

Netanyahu’s existing coalition fell apart when the corruption charges were made public in 2019, but his Likud party emerged from that election as the biggest party, so he formed a new coalition. That quickly fell apart too, so call another election. Same result for election No. 2. Bibi formed a new coalition ranging right across the political spectrum, but it fell apart within the year.

Third election, December 2020 (and Netanyahu’s trial was actually underway by now). A wildly disparate group of parties united only by their dislike of Bibi formed a coalition without him. That was confirmed
by a fourth election in March, 2021.

Do keep up. There will be a test.

Out of office, Netanyahu busied himself with brokering an electoral merger between three small extreme right-wing parties that separately had no chance of winning seats in the Knesset: the threshold to enter the parliament is 3.25% of the national vote.

Together, however, they could cross the threshold and win a few seats.

In due course the anti-Bibi coalition splintered, and a fifth election was called.

When it was held two months ago, Netanyahu’s new foster-child, the Religious Zionist Party, won fourteen seats. Those extra seats enabled Netanyahu for the first time to build a coalition government that is stable, because it contains only right-wing parties. It took five elections and a lot of everybody else’s time, but he got there in the end.

However, the new Religious Zionist Party (RZP) is so extreme that most foreigners and many Israelis are shocked: outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid describes it as “full-on crazy”. That may be a bit overwrought, but the leaders of the RZP are definitely beyond the pale.

Deputy leader Itamar Ben-Gvir is a gun-brandishing street agitator who has been indicted numerous times for racist incitement. He was a fan of far-right Jewish terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane, and became
famous as a teenager for stealing the hood ornament of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car. He told the reporters: “We’ll get to him too.” (Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist three weeks later.)

Ben-Gvir’s colleague, RZP chairman Bezalel Smotrich, believes that Israel should annex the occupied Palestinian territories, and calls for Palestinians who throw stones to be shot by police. Last year he told an Arab Member of the Knesset: “It’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and throw you out in 1948.”

Bibi will swallow all of that and more, because the RZP gives him enough votes to pass laws giving the Knesset power to override court decisions. (Judges: “Guilty as charged.” Knesset: “No, he’s not.”)

West Bank Palestinians are already in a slow-motion revolt: 150 killed by the Israeli army and Jewish settlers this year (and 31 Israeli dead). The new government’s response will be much too big and brutal,
and the West Bank is already awash with arms. It’s heading for war, or at least massacre.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘The Shortest History of War’.