Four key takeaways from Israel’s parliamentary elections

Benjamin Netanyahu is ahead of his rivals in the vote count after Tuesday’s elections, and looks likely to become PM.

Netanyahu waves at supporters
Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he addresses his supporters at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Jerusalem [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Occupied East Jerusalem – Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to return to power, with his bloc projected to win a majority of the seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and out on top in the early vote count.

It would mark a remarkable resurrection for Netanyahu, whose 12-year premiership ended in March 2021, after his opponents united to kick him out of office.

Tuesday’s vote, the fifth in less than five years, appears to show a reduction in support for the centrist current Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his allies. Instead, Netanyahu’s own far-right allies look to have gained seats.

Here are four key takeaways from the Israeli elections so far:

Netanyahu set to return

Netanyahu’s rule, marred by his corruption trial, ended in 2021 after two years of political deadlock and a failure to form a government.

Opposition to Netanyahu was so strong among both elements of Israeli politics that his right-wing former ally, Naftali Bennett, united with Lapid in a coalition deal.

But that coalition eventually fell apart in June, and it appears that Netanyahu has retained the support of most of the Israeli right, who appear to have returned him to power if the early results are confirmed.

The four previous elections since 2019 were mostly referendums on Netanyahu’s ability to serve while facing charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s biggest party in parliament, Likud, has denied any wrongdoing.

Netanyahu’s bloc plans to remove the offence of fraud and breach of trust – for which Netanyahu is on trial – from the criminal code, stripping the Israeli High Court of Justice of its ability to strike down unconstitutional laws and giving parliamentarians control over the selection of judges.

Rise of the (extreme) far right

Set to become his main partners in Tuesday’s election, Netanyahu is running with far-right politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir, who openly calls for armed violence against Palestinians, and Bezalel Smotrich, who are both part of Israel’s Religious Zionism alliance. Ben Gvir has advocated for Palestinians in Israel to undergo “loyalty tests”, with those deemed “disloyal” expelled from their ancestral homeland.

Even by the standards of Israel’s right wing, Ben Gvir and Smotrich are considered extreme.

The far-right merger of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s parties, which overlap ideologically, is projected to win at least 14 seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset, compared with six in the last elections.

Ben-Gvir is known to regularly harass Palestinians on the street in occupied East Jerusalem, including hurling foul language at residents, and to lead settler marches and stir friction, often leading to arrests and injuries of Palestinians, particularly in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which has become a hub of Jewish illegal settlement.

Meanwhile, some members of Smotrich’s party support illegally annexing the entire West Bank.

Palestinian parties: Will they make it in?

As of Wednesday morning, Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List (UAL), a conservative Islamic party, had surpassed the 3.25 percent threshold required, with five seats.

Abbas is regarded as controversial among Palestinians after the UAL, also known by its Hebrew acronym Ra’am, joined the Bennett-Lapid governing coalition, becoming the first Palestinian party to join an Israeli government.

Meanwhile, the joint alliance of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and the Arab Movement for Change, known in Hebrew as the Hadash-Ta’al list, led by longtime politicians Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, also appear to have passed the minimum threshold.

Palestinian voter turnout has been low this year, with many divided over whether to vote, and some residents saying they are disillusioned by the system.

There is a common belief that the main issues plaguing Palestinians in Israel, including crime and murders, restrictions on urban development and land possession, and police violence and surveillance, have only worsened over the past 10 years, even when Palestinian political parties united and represented the third largest bloc in parliament in 2015 and 2020.

However, other Palestinians think that Abbas’s UAL was able to effect change from inside the Israeli government.

Will the Israeli vote affect Palestinians in the occupied territories?

Some 4.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli military rule or blockade in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip and are not accounted for in Israeli elections.

Palestinians in the 1967-occupied territories live alongside hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements under a two-tier legal system that favours Jews over non-Jews.

Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah spokesman in Europe, said the two major camps in Israel have “one common denominator, which is they are both for the project of colonialism in Palestine”.

“I do not see the difference between the two camps headed by Yair Lapid or Netanyahu,” Nazzal told Al Jazeera. “Actually, they both compete in terms of who is more racist towards the Indigenous Arab population within Israel itself, and who is more extreme in terms of maintaining the occupation.

“We have seen a rise in Israeli violence and terrorism against Palestinians, so nobody can say that the Yair Lapid government is actually moderate because it has more blood on its hands within a short span of time than its predecessors,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera