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Israel votes (again)

What happened: Israelis vote today for the third time in 11 months, with polls predicting that neither Benjamin Netanyahu or his rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, will winenough seats to form a 61 seat governing coalition.

  • The last poll of the campaign was broadcast on Channel 12 news on Friday night and confirmed the momentum was with Netanyahu as it predicted his Likud party would win 35 seats, Gantz’s  Blue and White 33 seats, the Joint (Arab) List 14 seats, the two ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – 8 seats, the pro-settler Yamina party 7 seats. Labour-Gesher-Meretz 9 seats and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party 6 seats. The right wing/ultra-orthodox bloc was predicted to win 58 seats and the centre-left bloc 56 seats.
  • Last night, the Kahanist Jewish Power party rejected Netanyahu’s appeals to drop out of the race, despite polls predicting it will not get 3.25 per cent of the vote and so not win any seats. Likud loyalists fear this will cost the right wing bloc a vital two seats.
  • The last days of the campaign have been dominated by leaked recordings broadcast in the media. Channel 12 broadcast a recording of a conference call between Netanyahu and the rabbi responsible for leaking a private conversation with a Blue and White campaign strategist (the strategist had called Gantz a “danger” to Israel’s security). The rabbi can be heard on the call discussing how best to entrap the strategist. Netanyahu had earlier denied ever having spoken with the rabbi.

 

Context: The final electoral push by both Netanyahu and Gantz have boiled down to core messages.

  • Netanyahu has used his upswing in the polls to claim he only needs one or two more seats to win a 61-seat parliamentary majority and install a “strong right-wing government.” He has also claimed that any Gantz government will be “beholden to the Arabs,” alluding to the Joint List.
  • Gantz has tried to stop the downward trajectory by doubling down on the threat to Israeli democracy posed by a Netanyahu victory, claiming that it’s “either Blue and White or Erdogan,” alluding to the Turkish president’s style of rule.
  • All of the other parties have remained consistent in their loyalties to either Likud or Blue and White, hence the prediction of continued deadlock.
  • Lieberman, for his part, continued to rule out serving in a Government with the ultra-Orthodox, the Arab parties, and Netanyahu himself. But he has also claimed there will not be a fourth election. In an interview on Saturday night he hinted that Likud may have a new leader after election day, a scenario that looks extremely remote at present.
  • Turnout will be a key variable given the general apathy and anger at the year-long political stalemate, in particular Arab-Israeli turnout which is likely to dictate whether Gantz has a realistic option at forming a (minority) government – or at the very least denying one to Netanyahu.

 

Looking ahead: The final election outcome may hinge on a future decision by the Supreme Court as to whether Netanyahu is even eligible to be asked by the President to form a Government due to his indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and his criminal trial starting on 17 March.

  • The Supreme Court (and Attorney General) avoided such a decision in December, claiming they would consider it once it became relevant. Such a decision will become relevant after election day, when President Reuven Rivlin has to ask one of the party leaders to form a government.

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