Ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a narrow advantage on Wednesday ahead of the Israeli elections, according to exit polls, potentially paving the way for a return to power thanks to a boost triggered by extreme right ally known for his inflammatory anti-Arab commentaries.

Exit polls were preliminary and final results are subject to change as votes are counted overnight. However, they pointed to a constant change to the law in the Israeli electorate, which further weakens hopes for peace with the Palestinians and prepares the ground for a possible conflict with the Biden administration and Israel’s supporters in the US

Tuesday’s elections were Israel’s fifth elections in less than four years, all of which focused primarily on Netanyahu’s ability to rule. For a trial period for tons of corruption allegationsNetanyahu is seen by supporters as a victim of a witch hunt and vilified by opponents as a fraud and a threat to democracy.

The vote, like the previous elections, was extremely tight. Polls on three major Israeli TV stations predicted Netanyahu and his hardlining allies would win 61 or 62 seats in parliament, giving him a majority in the 120-seat parliament needed to rule.

But polls have shown that the small Arab party is on the verge of crossing the threshold required to enter parliament – a development that could wipe out a small majority of it.

The vast majority of votes was expected to be counted early on Wednesday.

Supporters of Israel’s Likud party gather at the campaign headquarters in Jerusalem on November 1, 2022, after voting in the fifth national election in less than four years.

MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP via Getty Images

If Netanyahu’s allies win, it could take weeks of negotiation to form a coalition government. A further stalemate and a new round of elections are also possible.

In comments to journalists at the end of Tuesday, Netanyahu paused before announcing his victory. – He can turn around. We don’t know, he said. “We live and kick, maybe before the big victory, but we have to wait until morning.”

Perhaps fearing that Arab voters would deny him victory, Netanyahu tweeted allegations of violence and manipulation of votes in Arab polling stations. He did not provide any evidence, and the country’s non-partisan Central Election Commission rejected “unfounded rumors.”

Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s population and were a key factor in blocking Netanyahu in the recent elections. But this time their vote was split between three different factions, each of which were in danger of falling below the threshold, which would mean those votes were wasted.

Netanyahu was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, ruling for 12 consecutive years – and a total of 15 years – before being overthrown last year by a diverse coalition led by centrist Yair Lapid.

But Lapid’s coalition, which included the first Arab party to join the government, was ravaged by internal struggles and collapsed after just one year in power. According to polls, these parties were ready to win only 54 seats.

The far-right MP Itamar Ben-Gvir, Religious Zionism, which turned out to be the third largest party, was the most emphatic that evening. At an all-men’s assembly, religious men wearing Jewish yarmulkeys and waving Israeli flags danced to celebrate.

Israeli far-right party leader Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Itamar Ben Gvir speaks with supporters as he arrives at a hotel in Jerusalem ahead of the conclusion of the election polls on November 1, 2022.

JALAA MAREY / AFP via Getty Images

Ben-Gvir is a student of the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was declared a terror*st group by the United States before he was m*rdered in New York in 1990.

The Kahane program called for a ban on mixed marriages between Arabs and Jews, the deprivation of Arabs of Israeli citizenship, and the expulsion of large numbers of Palestinians.

But while Kahane was seen as a pariah, Ben-Gvir is one of Israel’s most popular politicians thanks to frequent media coverage, a cheerful attitude, a talent for resisting criticism, and calling for a tougher line against the Palestinians during heavy fighting in the country. occupied West Bank. His strongest supporters are the young ultra-Orthodox.

Ben-Gvir first came into the spotlight in 1995 when he stole a Cadillac emblem from the car of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin. Ben-Gvir held up the Cadillac badge to the TV camera and said, “When we get to his car, we’ll get to him.”

The rabbi was m*rdered just a few weeks later by a Jewish far-right nationalist.

In recent years, Ben-Gvir has led the nationalist “March of the Flag” on Jerusalem Day, which has become a flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2021 the chaos around the march led to a large-scale conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group in the Gaza Strip. The politician was known to have appeared at every Palestinian-Israeli clash in disputed East Jerusalem.

Ben-Gvir lives in the Kiryat Arba estate in the West Bank and is a strong supporter of the estate development. He described Arab colleagues in parliament as “terror*sts”, called for the deportation of those who are “disloyal” and recently brandished a pistol in a tense Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, urging the police to shoot Palestinian stone throwers.

During the ceremony, supporters of Ben-Gvir chanted “Death to the terror*sts.”

“We want to completely separate those who are loyal to the State of Israel – and we have no problem with them – and those who undermine our dear country,” he said.

If Netanyahu’s alliance takes control of the majority, Ben-Gvir and his party leader Bezalel Smotrich will surely lead to tough bargains. Ben-Gvir said he would demand the position of a cabinet overseeing the Israeli police force.

The two also said they would seek legal reforms to undermine the independence of the judiciary and give parliament the power to annul court decisions they do not like. This could pave the way for the criminal charges against Netanyahu to be dropped. Smotrich and other party members also spoke out against LGBTQ on numerous occasions.

Such positions could put the future Netanyahu government on a collision course with the Biden administration, which supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians. It may also alienate Israel’s allies in the US, especially the overwhelmingly liberal American Jewish community.

“Ben-Gvir is one of the most radical politicians in Israeli history. If he has so much political power, it will be a serious headache for Netanyahu, ”said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Institute of Democracy, Independent Thought. tank.

He said Netanyahu, if asked to form another government, might try to look for other potential coalition partners instead. Since Netanyahu’s opponents have sworn they will never sit in government with him, this can be a difficult task.

In Israel, voters vote for parties, not for individual politicians. No party has ever won a majority on its own, and coalition-building is essential to governing.

Likud Netanyahu was to be the largest party, with around 31 parliamentary seats, followed by Yesh Atid Lapida, with 22 to 24 seats.

Lapid was the brains behind the coalition that turned Netanyahu into the leader of the opposition.

The coalition was made up of nationalists opposed to Palestinian statehood, dovish parties striving for a peace agreement, and – for the first time in the country’s history – a small Arab Islamist party. The groups united because of their dislike of Netanyahu.

But this coalition collapsed in the spring due to internal struggles.

Centrist Lapid, the former author and broadcaster who became prime minister under the power-sharing agreement, presented himself as an honest and scandal-free change from the polarizing Netanyahu.

During his short tenure as surveillance leader, Lapid welcomed President Joe Biden on a visit to Israel, led the country in a brief military operation against Gaza fighters, and signed a diplomatic agreement with Lebanon delineating a sea border between hostile nations.

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