Benjamin Netanyahu Touts Alliance With Trump As Israelis React To New Elections

May 30, 2019
Originally published on May 30, 2019 9:24 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now to Israel, where people are reacting to the news that they will have new elections in September, even though they just voted seven weeks ago. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his version of why. After he appeared to win, he failed to form a coalition that would have given him his fourth straight term in office. NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line from Jerusalem to talk about the latest. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So what's the reaction been from Israelis to the prospect of new elections, so soon after the last ones?

ESTRIN: Yeah, it's really been a shock for people. I think Israelis had been hearing these last few days that there was this threat of new elections, but that they thought, well, Netanyahu would pull through and form a coalition. And then what happened was that former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman refused to join the coalition, and Netanyahu was left without a majority. So just after midnight, they called new elections.

And today, when I spoke with Israelis in my neighborhood in Jerusalem, I heard two different kinds of reactions. There were those who voted for Netanyahu, who said, we think he's still the best man for the job, and we're going to vote for him again. And then those who didn't vote for Netanyahu in the last election said, we think these new elections are a waste of taxpayer money. And they blame Bibi Netanyahu. Here's what one woman, Einav Klieger (ph), said.

EINAV KLIEGER: Maybe he has a big ego. He thinks about himself, not about our country.

ESTRIN: So it's all about his legal problems, you think?

KLIEGER: I think, yeah; I think so.

ESTRIN: And she's talking about the fact that Netanyahu is probably about to face a corruption indictment. And he had a very hard time bringing lawmakers into a coalition because part of the deal he tried to make was that he wanted them to help him get immunity and avoid prosecution.

SHAPIRO: Well, how did he explain his position today? What was his message to the Israeli people?

ESTRIN: Well, he deflected. He blamed everything on Lieberman, the one man he needed for his government. And he also brought back one of his main campaign themes from the last elections, which was his close relationship with Trump. Today, Jared Kushner was here in Jerusalem meeting Netanyahu, and Netanyahu downplayed the whole political crisis that went down last night. He said it would have no effect on his relations with the White House, and here's what Netanyahu said, speaking with Kushner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Even though we had a little event last night, that's not going to stop us. We're going to continue working together.

ESTRIN: And basically, Netanyahu's message here to the Israeli public is, OK, he couldn't build a coalition, but he's not weak; he has Trump on his side. And I think we're going to see Netanyahu, again, play up those relations that he has with Trump during these new elections.

SHAPIRO: Did anything concrete come out of that meeting with the president's son-in-law?

ESTRIN: We don't really know. I mean, Kushner has said the U.S.-Israel bond was strong, and there is this new announcement that next month Israel will be hosting National Security Adviser John Bolton and a top Russian security official. The reason that Kushner traveled to Jerusalem was to talk about his Mideast peace plan. Now that there will be new Israeli elections, it's unclear if this plan will actually come to light, though the U.S. says it's still going to be holding a conference next month to talk about their plan for shoring up the Palestinian economy.

One very interesting thing Kushner did was that he brought Netanyahu an official State Department map, autographed by Trump, that backs Israel's claim to the Golan Heights, which is the land that Israel captured from Syria.

SHAPIRO: Well, just briefly, before we wrap up - this gives the opposition another chance at power. How are they gearing up for the elections?

ESTRIN: Right. Netanyahu's main opponent is Benny Gantz. He said this election is a waste of time and money, but it's a good opportunity for him to try to get another chance.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin, speaking with us from Jerusalem. Thanks, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.