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Israel election: Netanyahu's Likud storms to victory

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The wily old political fox, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party has won a surprise victory in Israel's March 17 election.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Mar 18, 2015

Exit polls had forecast a dead heat but with almost all votes counted, results give Likud a clear lead over its main rival, the centre-left Zionist Union.

But Netanyahu had to take a “hard right turn” to commandeer the voters to vote Likud, after it had at one stage - as early as four days before the election - seemed as if Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union might spring a nasty surprise. The win for Netanyahu comes after he moved to the right in the final days of campaigning, including abandoning a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state. In a four-day pre-election blitz, he made a series of promises designed to shore up his Likud base and draw voters from other right-wing and nationalist parties.

As well as ruling out a Palestinian state, he also pledged to continue building settlements on occupied land. His victory is likely to mean continued tensions with the United States, which has had an increasingly fraught relationship with Netanyahu.

Now that the dog has caught the bus, what now? There’s a saying in advertising: “It pays to advertise, but you must have the goods.”

Pronouncements that there would not be an independent Palestinian state on his watch - reneging on a 2009 pronouncement - and roiling the relationship waters with his major ally, America, with his Iran speech at the US Congress recently, may make it much more difficult to “govern” properly, rather than merely stay in power.

President Reuben Rivlin later this month will choose the candidate he sees as best suited to form a coalition. The outcome favours Netanyahu to form a right-wing coalition government. The inherent problem in a fractious coalition lineup is that a coalition has to be a broad church, accommodating the demands and needs of all the partners. To a degree small “kingmaker” parties can hold the major coalition partner(s) to ransom.

Netanyahu is on course to clinch a fourth term and become Israel's longest-serving prime minster, a position currently held by the country's founding father and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who served from 1948 to 1954 and again from 1955 to 1963.

The latest tally (on Wednesday before us going to press, but with well over 97 per cent of the votes counted) gave Likud 29 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, with the Zionist Union on 24 seats.

Herzog called Netanyahu early on Wednesday to congratulate him on the result and wished him "good luck. Nothing has changed, we will keep fighting for a just society," he was quoted as saying by Haaretz.

Ecstatic Likud supporters celebrated after the exit polls were announced. After Tuesday's polls, Netanyahu said he had already spoken to the leaders of other right-of-centre parties about forming a new government "without delay".

He described the vote as a "great victory" for Likud, which had trailed the Zionist Union in opinion polls in the run-up to the election. But in the end Israeli opinion polls told the wrong story - yet again.

When the polls closed on Tuesday, Herzog was able to say it was a tie, the best result for the left in more than 20 years. But overnight, as the real results emerged, Netanyahu and his governing Likud party emerged as clear winners.

Israel's form of proportional representation always produces smaller parties and coalition government. None has ever won an outright majority under Israel's proportional representation voting system.

Almost 72 per cent of those eligible voted in the election. The turnout was four points higher than the previous election in 2013.

A Herzog win would have been a sensational result; the Israeli left had been in the doldrums for a generation and Netanyahu was a clear favourite when he called early elections in December last year. Even in defeat, Herzog has now established himself as the undisputed leader of his party.

The Joint Arab List, an alliance of Israeli Arab-dominated parties, came third with 14 seats. It has said, however, that it will not take any positions in government and in any event it would have been most unlikely for them to have been asked to do so.

While Netanyahu had vowed not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state, Zionist Union expressed support for a two-state solution and promised to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.

Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud welfare and communications minister under Netanyahu, may still play a kingmaker role. His centre-right Kulanu party won 10 seats.

The head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, sees the “solidarity vote” among Arab voters, as an achievement in getting this far in Israeli politics.

“There is no Arab in this country who imagined that we would be the third force,” said Odeh, who only weeks ago was a little-known municipal councillor from Haifa, a mixed Arab-Jewish city.

Some see this election as a beginning in Israeli politics, in which the Arab alliance will become an active opposition. At the very least, the large turnout gave Arabs more weight to promote their community. Arabs in Israel number some 1,7 million, forming one-fifth of the country’s population.

Though most are Israeli citizens, they tend to be poorer, less educated and less likely to be employed than their Jewish counterparts. Israeli Arabs say they have felt more marginalised during the years when the government in Jerusalem has been dominated by Netanyahu and Likud.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Shmuel 18 Mar
    The Jewish Report's 'own correspondent" seems confused as to what is centrist,centrist right,leftist,centrist leftist in Israeli politics ,so how many seats in the Knesset has Avigdor's far-right Yisrael Beitanu or Naftali Bennet's BaYit Yehudi brought to the Centrist Likud coalition and how many has Moshe Kachlon's Kulanu,facts please not thumb-sucking !

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