03/22/2021, 14.32
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Israel election: Anti-COVID vaccines will help Netanyahu stay in power

Tomorrow is the fourth election in less than two years and the second since the pandemic broke out. For one Palestinian leader, the country is increasingly tilting right, but the battle for votes remains uncertain. Netanyahu’s political survival is at stake. The prospects for peace are absent and the future is uncertain.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israel’s election tomorrow revolves around the fate of outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu in a nation that is preparing to choose between the right and the extreme right, this according Israeli and Palestinian experts who spoke to AsiaNews about Israel’s fourth election in less than two years.

Marked by deep instability, the long-running issue of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, and the COVID-19 pandemic, with Israel as one of the first countries in the world to see the end of the health emergency thanks to a massive vaccination campaign, forming a  government will revolve around alliances and seats. At least 61 seats are needed to have a majority in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

One year after the last vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be the favourite, but his political survival hinges on a corruption trial from which he has been able to escape thanks to his office.

Among Netanyahu’s main rivals, Benny Gantz and his White Blue party are virtually out of the race, leaving as serious contenders only centrist Yair Lapid, former Likudnik Gideon Saar, and the champion of the ultra-nationalist right Naftali Bennett.

Despite the uncertainty, recent polls show a rise in Netanyahu's Likud, which is expected to win up to 30 seats, three more than last week. Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid's centrist party, dropped from 20 seats to 19; Yamina, a right-wing party led by Naftali Bennet, from 11 to 10; and New Hope, a party founded in December by former Likud minister Gideon Saar, is around 10 seats.

So far, no alliance seems have the numbers to form a majority, which is why analysts' attention is focused on the next moves of the outgoing Prime Minister, considered the most capable to form a majority. The alternative, which is not too unlikely, is a fifth election before the end of the year.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Professor Bernard Sabella, Fatah's representative and executive secretary of the Palestinian Refugee Service of the Council of Churches of the Middle East, sees “a struggle by Netanyahu to stay in power.”

From demographic surveys, he adds, Israel “emerges as a nation that is increasingly tilting to the right: a hundred seats out of a total of 120, in fact, will go to parties on the right or the extreme right and this is where the electoral competition is being played out.”

The current landscape, he adds, “is certainly not positive from the perspective of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, nor is it  good for marginalised groups, for the prospects for peace and for the future in general.”

For the Palestinian Christian leader, “Netanyahu's bloc is likely to reach about sixty seats, but not the majority and therefore will have to work and mediate to get another one or two seats and form the government.”

Unlike the last election, the Joint front, an alliance of Arab parties,  “is divided” and “this is also not good” for the future of the country and the region, at a time when “violence and crime are growing. Every day we hear about crimes and the Arab community is worried. It is still relegated to the margins and nothing will change after the vote.”

For Sabella, the fight, again, “revolves around Netanyahu's political survival,” In his view, “the massive vaccination campaign could help him stay in power.”

Sobhy Makhoul, a member of the Maronite Church in Jerusalem and administrator of the Christian Media Center, notes first that “in these elections there are no interventions or interference from outside, not even from the United States where everyone is silent but carefully following events.”

“In recent months Netanyahu has shown all his cunning and skill by promoting a massive vaccination campaign against COVID-19, also thanks to secret agreements with pharmaceutical companies, making Israel an experimental ground, but the facts have proved him right.”

In some ways he “has been able to win the sympathy and good will of many,” not only with the vaccine, but also by providing incentives, aid, and support “that have created a budget deficit, but which helped the groups in difficulty.”

“As for the future,” Netanyahu “said ‘vote for me and I will take care of the budget deficits’. In addition, he listened to his advisors and kept his family, wife and son, out of the campaign. In the past they had created many problems for him.” 

For Sobhy Makhoul, the election will be settled by “the undecided vote. There are still at least 15 or 16 seats up for grabs, and this can make a difference in the formation of the new government and the future majority in the Knesset.

“It is hard to predict and we cannot exclude more instability that could lead the country into a fifth election, but no one wants it. From the extreme right to the centre, the jockeying for alliances will be fundamental.”

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