Netanyahu leads Israeli election

Netanyahu leads Israeli election

According to early Wednesday morning exit polls, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked to retain a narrow lead in Israeli elections, perhaps paving the way for a return to power owing to a boost from an extreme right-wing ally renowned for incendiary anti-Arab sentiments.

The exit polls were preliminary, and the final results may change overnight as votes are counted. However, they pointed to a sustained trend to the right among Israeli voters, further darkening expectations for peace with the Palestinians and setting the ground for potential clash with the Biden administration and U.S. backers of Israel.

Israel had its fifth election in less than four years on Tuesday, with all of them focusing heavily on Netanyahu’s ability to govern. Netanyahu is on trial for a multitude of corruption accusations. His fans view him as the victim of a witch hunt, while his opponents view him as a crook and threat to democracy.

Similar to previous elections, the vote was extremely close. Exit surveys conducted by Israel’s three major television networks anticipated that Netanyahu and his hard-line supporters would win 61 or 62 seats in parliament, giving him the majority needed to govern in the 120-seat legislature.

Polls indicated, however, that a minor Arab party was on the verge of entering parliament, a scenario that may erode his slender majority.

On Wednesday morning, the great majority of votes were expected to be counted.

Even if Netanyahu’s friends emerge triumphant, forming a coalition government might require weeks of discussions. Continuing stalemate and new elections are other possibilities.

In remarks to reporters on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu refrained from declaring victory. “It can rotate. We cannot say, “he said. “We are alive and well, potentially on the verge of a huge victory, but we must wait till daybreak.”

Netanyahu tweeted allegations of violence and vote tampering at Arab polling places, possibly out of fear that Arab voters would deny him victory. The country’s nonpartisan Central Elections Committee dismissed the “baseless rumors” for lack of evidence.

Arabs constitute around 20% of Israel’s population and have been a major role in Netanyahu’s defeat in prior elections. This time, however, their vote was divided among three distinct factions, each of which was at risk of falling below the threshold, which would have rendered those votes useless.

Netanyahu was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having served for 12 straight years and 15 years in total before being ousted by a coalition led by the centrist Yair Lapid last year.

However, the coalition that Lapid cobbled together, which included the first Arab party to ever join a government, was ravaged by infighting and collapsed after just one year in power. According to the polls, these parties were only projected to get 54 seats.

Religious Zionism, led by far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, emerged as the night’s strongest performer and the third-largest party. Religious men wearing Jewish skullcaps and waving Israeli flags danced in celebration at an all-male campaign rally.

Ben-Gvir is a student of the racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was designated a terrorist organization by the United States before his assassination in New York in 1990.

Kahane’s plan included prohibiting interfaith marriage between Jews and Arabs, revoking Israeli citizenship from Arabs, and evacuating huge numbers of Palestinians.

Ben-Gvir is one of Israel’s most popular politicians due to his frequent media appearances, pleasant manner, ability to deflect criticism, and advocacy for a tougher stance towards Palestinians during a time of intense warfare in the occupied West Bank. Young ultra-Orthodox men are a significant portion of his support base.

Ben-Gvir first gained notoriety in 1995 when he stole the Cadillac emblem from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car. Ben-Gvir displayed the Cadillac emblem to a television camera and stated, “Just as we reached his car, we will reach him.”

Rabin was murdered a few weeks later by a Jewish ultranationalist.

Ben-Gvir has led the nationalist “March of the Flags” on Jerusalem Day, which has become a source of tension between Israelis and Palestinians, in recent years. The instability surrounding the march in 2021 precipitated a major battle between Israel and the Palestinian party Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The lawmaker has a history of attending conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis in contested east Jerusalem.

Ben-Gvir resides in the extremist West Bank community of Kiryat Arba and is an ardent supporter of settlement development. He has referred to Arab members of parliament as “terrorists,” called for the deportation of “disloyal” individuals, and recently flashed a handgun in a volatile Palestinian area of Jerusalem while urging police to murder Palestinian stone-throwers.

Ben-fans Gvir’s chanted “Death to terrorists” at the celebration.

“We want to establish a complete distinction between those who are loyal to the state of Israel — and we have no problem with them — and those who seek to harm our beloved nation,” he stated.

Ben-Gvir and his party head, Bezalel Smotrich, would likely engage in tough negotiations if Netanyahu’s coalition attains majority control. Ben-Gvir has said that he will seek the Cabinet position in charge of Israel’s police force.

In addition, they have stated that they will seek legal revisions designed to undermine the independence of the judiciary and give parliament the authority to overturn court decisions they disagree with. This could pave the path for the removal of Netanyahu’s criminal charges. Smotrich and other party members have also made numerous anti-LGBTQ remarks.

Such policies might put a potential Netanyahu administration at odds with the Biden administration, which supports a two-state solution for Palestinians. Additionally, it could alienate Israeli sympathizers in the United States, particularly the primarily liberal Jewish American population.

“Ben-Gvir is among the most radical Israeli politicians in history. If he arrives with so much political clout, Mr. Netanyahu will experience significant difficulty “President of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent think tank, Yohanan Plesner stated.

Netanyahu, if asked to form the next government, may instead seek out other potential coalition partners, according to this individual. Given that Netanyahu’s opponents have vowed to never serve in a government with him, this could be a challenging challenge.

In Israel, people choose parties rather than specific politicians. Coalition-building is required for government because no party has ever secured a majority on its own.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party was predicted to be the largest with approximately 31 seats, followed by Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 22 to 24 seats.

Lapid was the architect of the coalition that made Netanyahu the head of the opposition.

The alliance included nationalists opposed to Palestinian independence, dovish parties seeking a peace solution, and, for the first time in the nation’s history, a minor Arab Islamist party. The organizations shared a common dislike for Netanyahu.

This partnership, however, fell apart this spring due to internal strife.

Lapid, a former author and broadcaster who became prime minister under a power-sharing deal, has marketed himself as an honest and scandal-free alternative to Netanyahu.

During his brief tenure as caretaker leader, Lapid welcomed President Joe Biden to Israel, conducted a brief military campaign against extremists in Gaza, and secured a diplomatic accord with Lebanon establishing a sea boundary between the adversary nations.

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