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Israelis react to news that the former prime minister could take power again

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Israel appears to be on the verge of instating what could end up being the most right-wing government in that country's history. Parliamentary elections were yesterday. Most of the results are now in, and the party of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the most votes. Days of coalition talks still lie ahead, but Netanyahu is poised to return to the job he held for a decade until he was ousted last year amid corruption charges. Let's go to NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Hey there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Quite the comeback here by Netanyahu, if he pulls it off. How did he do it?

ESTRIN: He consolidated his base. You know, his opponents on the center left were fractured. They were infighting. One iconic left-wing party may not even get any seats in parliament at all - the Meretz Party. But meanwhile, Netanyahu made sure that several far-right factions would join forces into one big party. They were Jewish nationalists and supporters of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and politicians who are anti-LGBTQ rights. So they all ran together and promised to crack down on Palestinians. And this is in a year where there have been some deadly attacks on Israelis. So listen to Netanyahu's supporters overnight, chanting at election headquarters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: They're chanting, "law and order, law and order." Now, the star - the new star of these elections was Netanyahu's ally, Itamar Ben-Gvir. He is far right, and here's what his supporters were chanting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: They're chanting, "death to terrorists," which is an anti-Arab epithet here. So you have to understand, Ben-Gvir is a central figure in Israel's extreme right. He gained a lot of popularity in this election. He helped deliver Netanyahu to his apparent victory. That apparently is worrying the U.S. State Department. Spokesman Ned Price said earlier today, we hope that all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of an open democratic society, including respecting minorities.

KELLY: Interesting - so a bit of a kingmaker there. OK, what about the people who don't like Netanyahu - who are opposed to his coming back into power?

ESTRIN: Yeah. Liberal Israelis are very upset today, posting all kinds of social media memes. One of them I saw says, we turned our clocks back for daylight savings time. Why do we have to turn the clocks back a thousand years backwards? I also spoke with activist Asmaa El Khaldi (ph). She is among the 20% of Israel who are Palestinian citizens, and she says she's worried about what the far right in power could mean for her community.

ASMAA EL KHALDI: And I woke up into a nightmare. It's such a hard morning to us all. Israel is going into a sad, dark, bad place.

ESTRIN: She's especially worried, Mary Louise, about this far-right icon I mentioned, Itamar Ben-Gvir. He is expected to be a cabinet minister in Netanyahu's apparent government.

KELLY: Just about 30 seconds left, Daniel, but what are the priorities for this apparent government?

ESTRIN: Well, analysts I speak to say Netanyahu would probably try to resist major changes in policy toward the Palestinians. He's going to be under heavy U.S. pressure, but analysts are convinced that Netanyahu and his allies want to make radical changes to the judiciary and eliminate some checks and balances. Remember, Netanyahu is on trial facing fraud charges. He wants to avoid prison.

KELLY: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you.

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

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.