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Benjamin Netanyahu, following a historic election last week, is set to become the longest-serving Prime Minister of Israel since its founding father David Ben-Gurion. He will likely form a new coalition government next month, potentially the most right-wing and Orthodox Israel has seen. The future of moderate conservatism in Israel appears uncertain.

Netanyahu is a controversial figure. He currently faces corruption allegations and has advocated substantial changes to Israeli policy, including the passage of the controversial Nation-State Bill in Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset. The Nation-State Bill states that Jewish citizens of Israel have the “unique” right to self-determination. It also places Hebrew as the “state’s language”, reducing Arabic to a “special status” language, despite 20% of Israel’s population speaking Arabic as a first language. Netanyahu has also sparked debate by raising the defence budget, and he has refused to support bilateral negotiation of territory with Palestinian leaders. Following his election victory, he looks set to pursue new hardline laws on the annexation of the West Bank as Israeli territory.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party defeated Benny Gantz, the former Israeli Defence Forces Chief of Staff, and head of the ‘centrist’ Blue and White political alliance. Gantz supports more moderate economic and social policies, such as relaxing laws about trading and transport on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath day, historically a controversial issue with Orthodox minority parties in the Knesset. He is, however, also a self-confessed ‘hawk’ when it comes to security issues, despite attempts to cultivate an image of supporting a military ‘middle way’. Gantz’s newly increased political weight in the Knesset, even though he is unlikely to form part of the new religious coalition, may fall in line with Netanyahu’s hardline Palestine policy involving annexing the West Bank. This is despite Israeli settlements being condemned by the United Nations under international law.

Likud’s power shows no signs of waning, and the leftist and Arab-interested parties’ power in the Knesset continues to decline. The Labor Party, which dominated Israeli politics for the first three decades after Israel’s founding as a socialist democratic force in the tradition of twentieth-century Zionist movements, has declined sharply in the polls. It now holds only six seats in the Knesset. Conversely, two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, both increased their numbers of seats to eight each. Both have signalled their willingness to join a Netanyahu coalition.

However, the election results do not completely threaten Israeli moderate conservatism. Blue and White’s elections results – gaining 35 seats and 29% of the vote, almost equal to Likud’s 36 seats and 30% of the vote – are impressive given the coalition has existed only for a few months. As discussed above, Blue and White favour more moderate policies. This includes a plan to introduce a term limit for Israeli Prime Ministers and supporting the introduction of public transport services on the Jewish Sabbath. If Netanyahu’s victory has exposed the fact that a significant proportion of the electorate is willing to overlook his corruption allegations and support his hardline Palestine policy – Gantz’s gains have shown that an almost equally significant part of the population still supports a moderate conservative approach. Socially, at least, moderate conservatism in Israel is growing: young Israelis are beginning to identify with less hardline conservative and, at times, more secular ideologies.

Political moderate conservatism, despite the seemingly heartening gains of the Blue and White coalition, still has much further to come if it is to effectively challenge the dominance of Netanyahu and the more conservative right in Israeli politics.

Caitlin Farrell is currently undertaking a week’s work experience with Bright Blue. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.