Israelis vote as Benjamin Netanyahu seeks return to power

Tuesday November 01 2022
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their ballot at a polling station in Jerusalem on November 1, 2022. Netanyahu is campaigning for a comeback alongside far-right allies. PHOTO | RONALDO SCHEMIDT | AFP



Israelis were voting Tuesday in their fifth election in less than four years, with the hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu campaigning for a comeback alongside far-right allies.

The latest ballot follows the collapse of the so-called "change" coalition, which united eight disparate parties who succeeded in ousting Netanyahu last year after a record run as prime minister, but ultimately failed to bring political stability.

"I hope we will finish the day with a smile, but it's up to the people," Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption and breach of trust, said after casting his ballot.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party is lagging slightly behind Netanyahu's right-wing Likud in the polls, urged people to vote "for the future of our children, for the future of our country".

Outcome remains uncertain


In a political system where a shift in just one of the 120 Knesset seats up for grabs could cement a ruling coalition -- or lead to further deadlock and possible new elections -- the outcome remains uncertain once more.

At a polling station in Tel Aviv, voter Amy Segal aired her frustration.

"Each year there's a new election, there's no political stability and it obstructs a lot of things," the 26-year-old told AFP.

"I feel like it doesn't matter who you vote for, nothing will change."

Israelis have until 2000 GMT to cast their ballots, after which complex bargaining to build a coalition will get underway.

Spike in violence

Whoever is tapped to form a government will need the backing of multiple smaller parties to stand a chance of clinching the 61 seats necessary for a majority.

The extreme-right leader Itamar Ben-Gvir may be key to helping Netanyahu return to the premiership, as his Religious Zionism bloc has gained momentum in recent weeks and could come third in the election.

Ben-Gvir, who has faced dozens of charges of hate speech against Arabs, vowed Tuesday there will be a "full right-wing government" led by Netanyahu.

Those backing Netanyahu despite his ongoing corruption trial include Lee Lanes, 29, who works in hi-tech.

More firmness

"We live in a bubble in Tel Aviv but outside of this bubble there are terrorist attacks, and for this reason I think that we need more firmness," she said.

The election is being held against a backdrop of soaring violence across Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

At least 29 Palestinians and three Israelis were killed across the two territories in October, according to an AFP tally.

The Israeli military said it would shut checkpoints leading to the West Bank and close the crossing with the blockaded Gaza Strip throughout election day.

While many candidates have cited security as a concern, none have campaigned on a platform of reviving moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.

Divisions and despondency

The cost of living has been a hot issue this election as Israelis, having long endured high prices, are feeling the pinch even more amid global economic turmoil linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But in repeated rounds of elections since April 2019, few voters have significantly shifted their allegiances.

The pacts agreed and broken by their political leaders have, however, changed over time and shaped short-lived governments.

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

That unlikely alliance was made possible after Mansour Abbas pulled his Raam party from a united slate with other Arab-led parties, paving the way for him to join the coalition.

Further divisions

Recent months have seen further divisions within the Arab bloc, which is running on three separate lists in a move expected to weaken the minority's representation in parliament.

Such a scenario has led to despondency among many Arab-Israelis -- who make up around 20 per cent of the population -- potentially denting their turnout.

Abbas, however, remained optimistic Tuesday that turnout could rise "so that we can continue this process of cooperation and results for the Arab society, and for the Israeli society in general."