Israelis vote as Netanyahu seeks return to power

Israelis vote as Netanyahu seeks return to power


Israelis will vote Tuesday in their fifth election in less than four years, with hawkish ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fighting for a comeback alongside far-right allies.

The latest vote follows the collapse of the so-called “Change” coalition, which brought together eight disparate parties that managed to oust Netanyahu after a record run as prime minister last year, but ultimately failed to bring political stability.

Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid is trying to stay in power, with his centrist Yesh Atid party trailing slightly behind Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in the polls ahead of a vote that will, as always, precede complex negotiations to form a coalition.

Lapid, a former TV presenter, vowed Monday to “continue what we started,” predicting, “We’re going to win this election the only way we know how — by working harder than everyone else.”

But in a political system where a shift in just one of the 120 Knesset seats up for grabs could solidify a governing coalition – or lead to another deadlock and possible new elections – the outcome again remains uncertain.

Netanyahu, on trial for corruption and breach of trust, has reached out to party loyalists from a bulletproof campaign bus to convince them that only he can protect the country.

“I’m asking you to go to all your friends, all your neighbors, all your relatives and tell them no one stays home,” the 73-year-old, known as Bibi, urged supporters at a recent rally .

– Tight race –

Anyone who is called upon to form a government needs the backing of several smaller parties in order to have a chance of winning the 61 seats required for a majority.

Far-right leader Itamar Ben-Gvir could be key to helping Netanyahu return to prime minister as his religious Zionist bloc has gained momentum in recent weeks and could finish third in the elections.

Ben-Gvir, who has faced dozens of charges of hate speech against Arabs, argues he is “here to save the country”.

Tuesday’s vote comes amid rising violence in Israel-annexed East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

According to an AFP tally, at least 29 Palestinians and three Israelis were killed in the two areas in October.

The Israeli military said it will close checkpoints leading to the West Bank and close the crossing into the blockaded Gaza Strip during election day.

While many candidates cited security as a concern, none has advocated a platform to revive moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.

– divisions and depression –

The cost of living was a hot topic in these elections as Israelis, who have long endured high prices, feel the pressure even more amid the global economic turmoil surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But in repeated rounds of voting since April 2019, few voters have significantly changed their allegiance.

However, the pacts made and broken by their political leaders have changed over time, shaping short-lived governments.

Lapid was the architect of the last coalition that brought an independent Arab party into the fold for the first time, drawing in others from right and left.

This unlikely alliance was made possible after Mansour Abbas pulled his Raam party out of a joint list with other Arab-led parties, paving the way for him to join the coalition.

In recent months, further divisions have emerged within the Arab bloc, which runs on three separate lists, which is expected to weaken minority representation in parliament.

Such a scenario has caused despair among many Arab Israelis – who make up about 20 percent of the population – and potentially affected their voter turnout.

“First of all, we have to work harder to convince people to go out and vote,” Aida Touma-Suleiman of the Hadash Taal Alliance told AFP.

“It’s one frustration upon another.”

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