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After Netanyahu Win, What's Next For Israel Still Unknown


It may be weeks before Israel's new government is complete, but one day after elections, its shape is emerging. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to stay in charge. He brought his center-right Likud party to an unexpectedly decisive victory after last-minute campaigning that swung sharply to the right. Netanyahu still has to negotiate a coalition government. In a moment, what all this means for relations with the US. First, NPR's Emily Harris reports on the postelection landscape in Israel.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Israeli voter Ilan Amar was happy today.

ILAN AMAR: Yeah, I feel very, very good.

HARRIS: He voted for Benjamin Netanyahu - a real leader, Amar says.

AMAR: That he can lead the people of Israel to the success and the security in the economic...

HARRIS: But before any leading of the people, Netanyahu has to persuade heads of parliamentary factions to join a coalition government. That might not be easy. Professor Gideon Rahat with the Israel Democracy Institute says coalition building in Israel is about policies and power and personalities.

GIDEON RAHAT: There are people with bad blood between them that have to clean it before they go together.

HARRIS: That includes by many accounts Netanyahu and the politician Moshe Kahlon, who emerged as a likely kingmaker, the man Netanyahu needs to form a workable coalition. Kahlon's party is brand-new. This is common in Israel. Professor Rahat says it's also common for voters to switch support from one party to another.

RAHAT: If people would change their vote in such high rates in other countries - in Europe - they will call it earthquake elections.

HARRIS: But Rahat says yesterday's vote was within the pattern of recent Israeli elections. Voters might switch parties, but they stick with one general block of left, right or center.

RAHAT: So if you compare the election results of last night, the size of the political blocks is more or less the same - not much change.

HARRIS: But for some Israelis, this election changed a lot.

MOHAMMAD DARAWSHE: Israel has become much harder in its right-wing policy. The right wing is much more cohesive and much more clear.

HARRIS: Mohammad Darawshe is a prominent supporter of Arab-Israeli coexistence. He points to two last-minute Netanyahu campaign statements. First, Netanyahu vowed he would no longer support the creation of a Palestinian state. Second, he warned of droves of Arab voters seeking to oust him.

DARAWSHE: I think disaster has happened from the point of view of the peace process and from the point of view of the status of the 20 percent Arab minority in Israel.

HARRIS: Netanyahu adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, says with militant Islamist groups gaining strength in the region, now is not the time for Israel to give up territory. He played down Netanyahu's campaign promise to oppose a Palestinian state.

DORE GOLD: It was in response to a strategic environment that is fundamentally changing and not a kind of new ideological position on the part of the prime minister.

HARRIS: But Western leaders worry that Netanyahu's statement will make it hard to revive stalled peace talks. Gold says if Europe and the U.S. want Israel to negotiate with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, they need to come up with a plan.

GOLD: Let's see how the Western countries are able to work with Mahmoud Abbas to bring him to the table.

HARRIS: Israeli political watchers say Netanyahu did whatever he had to do to win. Many expect him now to do whatever he has to do to govern. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.