Israelis head to the polls, all eyes on Benjamin Netanyahu

Israelis will head to the polls today for the fifth general elections for the 120-seat parliament in fewer than four years, with opinion polls predicting yet another deadlock in forming a government, which has crippled the country’s political system since 2019.

About 6.78 million Israelis are currently eligible to vote, according to the Israeli Central Elections Committee.

A total of 40 parties are running for seats in the Israeli parliament. However, only about 11 of them are projected to pass the electoral threshold needed to enter the parliament, which now stands at 3.25 percent of the total votes.

After all the votes are counted, the Israeli president will assign the coalition-building task to the party leader with the most recommendations from all parties.

The frontrunning or key political parties in the upcoming elections include Likud, Yesh Atid and the Religious Zionist Party.

Led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the past 17 years, the Likud is Israel’s largest right-wing party. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, had served as prime minister for 12 consecutive years before being ousted in June 2021 by a cross-partisan coalition when he could not gain the majority needed to form a coalition in the 120-seat parliament.

The latest polls predict 30-31 seats for the Likud and 60 seats for his bloc, suggesting Netanyahu is only one seat short of achieving the outright majority needed to return to power. But with his ongoing corruption trial and growing criticism over his links to the ultranationalist Religious Zionist party, which he may depend on to form a coalition, polls predict no clear victory.

Yesh Atid, the centrist party founded and led by 58-year-old caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who also serves as foreign minister. Lapid has campaigned for “clean politics,” calling for Netanyahu to resign over the corruption charges that have been hanging over his head.

However, Lapid’s stance against many religious values and special stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jews have led Shas and United Torah Judaism, two ultra-Orthodox parties, to declare they will never agree to sit in a coalition with him, making it hard for him to form the next government despite the rising support he gained during his brief tenure as interim prime minister.

Religious Zionist Party, a faction of three far-right parties including the anti-Arab Jewish Power Party led by Israeli lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir, 46, who now also serves as a lawmaker in the parliament.

In the recent campaign, Ben-Gvir advertised himself as a former disciple of the late Rabbi Meir Kahana, leader of the extremist Kach movement which was blacklisted in Israel as a terrorist group and outlawed in 1994. He has flaunted admiration for Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer of Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994.

The Religious Zionist Party is led by Bezalel Smotrich, also a pro-settler lawyer, with recent polls showing 14-15 seats for the party. ■

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