Israel election: Netanyahu eyes comeback as voters head to the polls for fifth election in four years
Israelis head to the ballot box on Tuesday for an unprecedented fifth time in four years, Israel is holding another national election with the aim of ending the ongoing political impasse in the country.
For the first time in 13 years, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not running as an incumbent. Bibi, as he is universally known in Israel, is hoping to return to power as head of a hard-right coalition, while centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid hopes the mantle of acting will help him stay in place.
Netanyahu issued a stark warning as he cast his vote on Tuesday morning.
Asked by CNN about fears he would lead a far-right government if returned to office, Netanyahu responded with an apparent reference to the Ra’am party, which made history last year by becoming the first Arab party ever to join an Israeli government coalition.
“We don’t want a government with the Muslim Brotherhood, who support terrorism, deny the existence of Israel and are quite hostile to the United States. This is what we will bring,” Netanyahu told CNN in English at his polling station in Jerusalem.
Lapid, who hopes he and his political allies will defy poll predictions and stay in power, voted in Tel Aviv on Tuesday with a message to voters: “Good morning, vote wisely. Vote for the State of Israel, the future of our children and our future in general.”
But if the final opinion polls are on target, this round of voting is unlikely to be any more successful in breaking the deadlock than the last four. Those polls predict that Netanyahu’s bloc will fall one seat short of a majority in parliament.
As in the previous four elections, Netanyahu himself – and the possibility of a government he will lead – is one of the key issues, especially as his corruption trial continues. A an Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) poll in August found that a quarter of respondents said the identity of the party leader they were voting for was the second most important factor in their vote.
But some top centre-right politicians, who ideologically agree with him, refuse to work with him for personal or political reasons. So to make a comeback, Netanyahu, the leader of the center-right Likud party, is likely to depend on the support of far-right parties to form a coalition – and if successful, he may be forced to give his leaders ministerial positions.
Israelis are also very concerned about the cost of living, after seeing their utility and grocery bills rise this year. In the same IDI poll, 44% said their first priority was what a party’s economic plan would do to lower the cost of living.
And security, always a major issue in Israeli politics, is on voters’ minds – 2022 was the worst year for conflict deaths for both Israelis and Palestinians since 2015.
A a recent compilation of polls compiled by Haaretz shows that Netanyahu’s bloc of parties is likely to reach – or just reach – the 61 seats needed to form a government majority, while the Lapid-led bloc is about four to five seats behind.
According to pollsters Joshua Hantman and Simon Davis, in the last week of polling, Netanyahu’s bloc passed the 61-mandate mark in six polling stations and fell behind in nine. The latest three polls released Friday by Israel’s three main news channels all show his bloc holding 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
Recognizing the need to pick up just one or two more seats, Netanyahu is focusing his campaign on places that are Likud strongholds. Party officials have previously claimed that hundreds of thousands of likely Netanyahu voters did not vote.
Another important factor is the turnout of Arabs. Citizens who identify as Arab and have national voting rights make up about 17% of Israel’s population, according to the IDI; their turnout could make or break Netanyahu’s chances. One of the parties, the United Arab List, warned that if Arab turnout fell below 48%, some of the Arab parties would not be able to pass the 3.25% threshold needed to win any seat in parliament.
Overall, turnout was slightly higher as of Tuesday morning than in previous elections, according to Israel’s Central Election Board.
With rising grocery and utility bills and a nearly impossible housing market, Tuesday’s vote takes place against the backdrop of an increasingly tense security environment.
Earlier this year, a wave of attacks on Israelis killed 19 people, including mass attacks on civilians in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. There has also been an increase in armed attacks on Israeli troops and civilian settlers by Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank this year, claiming the lives of several more soldiers and Israeli civilians. According to the Israel Defense Forces, there have been at least 180 shooting incidents in Israel and the occupied territories this year, compared to 61 attacks in 2021.
In the days leading up to election day, one Israeli was killed and several wounded in a shooting attack in the West Bank near Hebron. The next day, several soldiers were injured in a car attack near the West Bank city of Jericho. The Palestinian attackers were killed in both cases.
Attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank – and sometimes on Israeli soldiers – are also on the rise, according to the human rights group B’Tselem.
Almost daily Israeli security raids in West Bank cities have killed more than 130 Palestinians this year. While the Israeli military says most were militants or Palestinians who violently clashed with them – including the newly formed ‘Lion’s Den’ militia – unarmed and uninvolved civilians were also captured.
The death of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh in May while covering the Israeli military offensive in the West Bank attracted worldwide attention. After several months, the Israeli military admitted that its soldiers most likely killed Abu Akleh – saying it was an accidental killing in the middle of a combat zone.
Palestinians disillusioned with their own leadership’s ability to resist Israeli occupation led to the proliferation of these new militias – and experts fear that a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, is on the way.
There are 40 political parties on the ballot, although only ten parties are expected to pass the threshold for entering parliament. Just after the polls close at 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET), the major media networks release exit polls that provide the first glimpse of how the vote went — though official vote tallies may differ from exit polls, often for small but key amounts to .
It is expected that only ten parties will pass the minimum electoral threshold required to enter the parliament.
After the votes are officially tallied, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will hand over the mandate to form a government to the leader he believes is most likely to succeed – even if he is not the leader of the largest party.
That candidate then has a total of 42 days to try to gather enough parties to reach the magic number of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to form a majority government. If they fail, the president can transfer the mandate to another candidate. If that person does not succeed within 28 days, then the mandate is returned to parliament, which has 21 days to find a candidate, the last chance before new elections begin. Lapid would remain as interim prime minister until a new government is formed.
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