DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Benjamin Netanyahu has won his fifth term as prime minister of Israel. He's going to become Israel's longest-serving leader. After a close and dramatic election, his centrist challenger Benny Gantz conceded defeat when it became clear Netanyahu would have the support from a coalition of right-wing parties to build a majority in Parliament. But what is this government going to look like? And what does it mean for the region? Well, we have David Makovsky here. He's with The Washington Institute. He directs the project on Arab-Israel relations.
Thanks for coming in.
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Delighted to be with you.
GREENE: So how would you describe the government we're about to see in Israel?
MAKOVSKY: I think it'll be more continuity rather than change. Some of the pundits' predictions that the hard right would do better - they didn't do as well. And Netanyahu basically co-opted some of their themes in a certain way, but I don't expect him to act on those themes dramatically because he wants to be very much in line with the United States. Basically, at this time, normally, there would be this question of, does the winner try to go to his base or does he go to the middle? But due to the legal cloud that this prime minister is under with a looming indictment, I tend to think that the middle option of having, like, a big-tent, national unity government is just not in the cards. And as you pointed out with the Gantz concession, you know, it's just not possible - that there's just a chasm there until the legal cloud is lifted.
GREENE: How serious is that legal cloud? I mean, there's still these corruption allegations. Could this really be a threat for him?
MAKOVSKY: Yes, it definitely is. One of the big issues that's going to be confronting this government is if - whether they waive the immunity for this prime minister so that he faces the legal system. And, you know, the media is going to be all over this issue. And there's the question of, is this just the kind of - waiting before the next round of elections that he is indicted? Or does Netanyahu try to strike a deal with his coalition partners? - which is, defer any issues of me standing trial until my term is over and I'll give you more of what you want. But the legal establishment in Israel is very strong, very resilient. I don't think that's going to go so easily. So there's a question of whether this is his swan song or whether he's able to maneuver his coalition allies into deferring the charges against him. That's going to be an issue. And if so, what's the price of that? Will there be people saying, OK, give me what I want in terms of annexations on the West Bank - which has gotten a lot of media attention given his own remarks...
MAKOVSKY: ...in the last week. I tend to think Netanyahu has always prioritized his relations with the United States. And, in a certain way, it's going to be up to Donald Trump. He has his peace plan that he wants to unveil shortly after the government is brought in - some point at the end of May, probably, or early June - latest. And we expect that - will Trump unveil his plan? But if he unveils his plan, we're expecting the Palestinians to reject it. And Netanyahu would say, hey. There should be a consequence if they reject. And how about giving me some selective annexations in areas closer to Israel's borders breaking that taboo on...
GREENE: I do want to ask you about that. I mean, you're saying that a lot of whether Netanyahu acts on that is actually going to be up to President Donald Trump.
MAKOVSKY: Exactly. Trump is the key player. Netanyahu always prioritizes his relations with Trump. And I think the question of Netanyahu - does he have a two-stepper in mind? - which is - the predicate is the peace plan, expecting the Palestinians to reject it. And therefore, if they say no, then let me selectively annex. I'm not doing the wholesale annexation because that's creating Bosnia on the Mediterranean. I have no interest in that. But at least give me modified annexation. And I think how the U.S. plays this is the key player.
GREENE: Thanks so much, David Makovsky, director of the project on Arab-Israel relations at the Washington Institute. We appreciate it.
MAKOVSKY: Delighted to be with you.
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