Israel election: polls open for fifth in five years as Netanyahu attempts comeback

The scenarios that could play out in the next few days are as diverse as the camps that make up the Knesset

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As voting begins, all eyes in Israel are on perhaps the most divisive politician in the country's history.

By tomorrow evening, former Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu will know whether he stands a chance of getting back into power, after he was ousted in June 2021 by a wide coalition brought about by current caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Whether Mr Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, can make this comeback is a question that has vexed the country's politicians in this campaign season more than any other.

If he and his allies win a 61-seat parliamentary majority in the 120-seat Knesset, the veteran statesman will prove once again that he is a political force that few can match.

It will also show he is a survivor. Mr Netanyahu is on trial over corruption, and his many opponents fear that he will try to alter the course of justice if he gets into office.

A sixth election?

A woman casts her vote at a polling station during Israeli general elections in Jerusalem. EPA

His victory is quite possible, but still uncertain. Three polls released on Friday predict Mr Netanyahu's bloc winning 60 seats, with 56 going to anti-Netanyahu parties and four to a crucial, perhaps pivotal, alliance of Arab-led parties.

If, as these results suggest, neither camp reaches 61 seats, Israel could be headed for another election within months — the sixth in four years.

Mr Netanyahu's opponents, including the current government, have been doing all they can to stop him. The caretaker administration trumpets a recent maritime deal struck with Lebanon, the restoration of defence ties with Turkey and success dealing with domestic terrorism as achievements of its short time in power.

In a veiled dig at Mr Netanyahu, Mr Lapid told lawmakers from his party on Monday that they will win by offering voters a choice between “the anger of the past or the shared good of the future”.

Mr Lapid and other opponents of Mr Netanyahu have spent much of the campaign drawing attention to the type of government Mr Netanyahu might form.

He could well rely on some of the most radical-right politicians the country has yet seen. There are reports that officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden expressed concern to Israeli President Isaac Herzog about a future government containing members of the far-right.

Rise of the far-right in Israel

Itamar Ben-Gvir is the politician most symbolic of these concerns. He is known for his anti-Arab rhetoric and calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, sentiments that would have been taboo a few years ago.

With rising, energised support, he has been one of the most closely followed politicians in this campaign. That the election comes in a year of increased violent tensions in the West Bank makes his appeal even stronger to many on Israel's right, particularly former Likud voters and young right-wing Israelis.

Benny Gantz (top left), far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir (top right), Benjamin Netanyahu (bottom left) and Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid (bottom right). Reuters

Despite the threat posed by the extreme right to their interests, there are fears that the turnout of Arab-Israelis will be particularly low this time round. Voter apathy is high and there is disappointment with the record of Arab politicians.

Without the support of Arab voters, forming a broad coalition against Mr Netanyahu like the last might prove impossible, paving the way for him, and possibly his extreme right partners, to enter power.

With sufficient Arab turnout, Mr Netanyahu will fail, an event that could well close forever the chapter in Israeli history in which he dominated.

These are the scenarios. But, in such tumultuous times, another prospect looms: yet another inconclusive result, and, therefore, a sixth election in a matter of months.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 5:14 AM