Israel elections: Netanyahu eyes comeback as voters head to the polls for fifth election in four years


Jerusalem
CNN

Israelis head to the polls for an unprecedented fifth time in four years on Tuesday, as Israel holds a new national election aimed at ending the country’s current political stalemate.

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, hopes to return to power leading a far-right coalition, while centrist caretaker prime minister Yair Lapid hopes the mantle of caretaker premiership will help him to stay in place.

Netanyahu issued a stark warning as he voted Tuesday morning.

Asked by CNN about his fears of leading a far-right government if he returns to power, Netanyahu responded with an apparent reference to the Ra’am party, which made history last year by becoming the top party Arab to join an Israeli government coalition. .

“We don’t want a government with the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports terrorism, denies the existence of Israel and is rather hostile to the United States. That’s what we’re going to 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, cast his ballot in Tel Aviv on Tuesday with a message to voters: “Hello, 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 up to snuff, it seems unlikely that this round of voting will be any better at breaking the deadlock than the last four. These polls predict that Netanyahu’s bloc will lose one less seat than a majority in parliament.

As in the previous four elections, Netanyahu himself — and the possibility of a government led by him — is one of the defining issues, especially as his corruption trial continues. An August poll by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) found that a quarter of respondents said the identity of the leader of the party they were voting for was the second most important factor in their vote.

But some high-level centre-right politicians who agree with him ideologically refuse to work with him for personal or political reasons. So to make a comeback, Netanyahu, leader of the center-right Likud party, is likely to depend on support from far-right parties to form a coalition – and if successful, could be forced to give his leaders cabinet posts. .

Israelis are also very concerned about the cost of living, having seen their utility and grocery bills soar this year. In the same IDI poll, 44% said their top priority was what a party’s economic plan would do to alleviate the cost of living.

And security, always a major issue in Israeli politics, is on the minds of voters – 2022 was the worst year in terms of conflict-related deaths for Israelis and Palestinians since 2015.

A recent compilation of polls by Haaretz shows that Netanyahu’s party bloc is likely to either achieve – or reach – the 61 seats needed to form a majority in government, while the Lapid-led bloc falls short. around four to five places.

According to pollsters Joshua Hantman and Simon Davies, the last week of polls saw a small bump for Netanyahu’s bloc, showing it topped the 61-seat mark in six polls and lost nine. The latest three polls released by Israel’s three main news channels on Friday all showed his 60-seat bloc in the 120-seat Knesset.

Recognizing the need to win just one or two more seats, Netanyahu has focused his campaign in places that are Likud strongholds. Party officials have previously claimed that hundreds of thousands of Netanyahu’s likely voters did not vote.

Another important factor is Arab participation. Citizens who identify as Arab and have national voting rights make up about 17% of Israel’s population, according to the IDI; their participation could make or break Netanyahu’s chances. One of the parties, the Joint List, has warned that if Arab turnout falls below 48%, some of the Arab parties may not pass the 3.25% vote threshold needed to win seats in parliament.

Overall turnout was slightly higher on Tuesday morning than it had been in previous elections, according to Israel’s Central Elections Commission.

Along with soaring grocery and utility bills and a nearly impossible housing market, Tuesday’s vote is taking place against the backdrop of an increasingly tense security environment.

Earlier this year, a wave of attacks targeting Israelis killed 19 people, including mass attacks targeting civilians in Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel. There has also been an upsurge in armed attacks against Israeli troops and civilian settlers by Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank this year, claiming the lives of several more Israeli soldiers and civilians. According to the Israel Defense Forces, there have been at least 180 shootings in Israel and the occupied territories this year, compared to 61 shootings in 2021.

In the days leading up to election day, an Israeli was killed and several injured in a shooting in the West Bank near Hebron. The following day, several soldiers were injured in a vehicular attack near the West Bank city of Jericho. The Palestinian attackers were killed in both cases.

Attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank – and sometimes against Israeli soldiers – are also on the rise, according to human rights group B’Tselem.

Near-daily Israeli security raids on West Bank towns have killed more than 130 Palestinians this year. While the Israeli military says most were militants or Palestinians who engaged violently 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 an Israeli military raid in the West Bank drew worldwide attention. After several months, the Israeli army admitted that it was most likely its own soldiers who shot Abu Akleh – claiming it was unintentional killing in the middle of a combat zone.

Palestinian disillusionment with their own leaders’ ability to confront the Israeli occupation has led to a proliferation of these new militias – and fear among experts that a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, is on the way.

There are 40 political parties on the ballot, although only about ten parties are expected to cross the threshold to sit in parliament. Immediately after the polls close at 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET), major media networks release exit polls that give a first look at how the vote went – ​​though the official vote tally may vary. exit polls, often small but crucial amounts. .

Only about ten parties should cross the minimum threshold of votes necessary to sit in parliament.

Once the vote is officially counted, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will hand over the mandate to form a government to the leader he considers most likely to succeed – even if he is not the leader of the largest party.

This candidate then has a total of 42 days to try to muster enough parties to reach the magic number of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to form a majority government. In case of failure, the President can transfer the mandate to another candidate. If that person fails within 28 days, then the mandate goes to parliament which has 21 days to find a candidate, one last chance before new elections are called. Lapid would remain acting prime minister until a new government is formed.

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