Polls Open for General Election in Israel

By Oliver Griffin

‘If you’re in Israel today, vote as if your life depends on it. It does’ is the message blaring from Jewish Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s journalists today, Tuesday, 22nd January. Millions of Israelis will be turning out to elect the 19th Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The Knesset is made up of one-hundred and twenty seats and it is widely anticipated that the incumbent coalition government, headed by the right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance, will retain power for a third term in office.

However, the outcome is set to be slightly different from last time, with results expected to show a drop in seats held by the Likud-Beiteinu coalition from forty-two to thirty-five. This is largely due to a mix of dissatisfaction with Netanyahu’s foreign policies and the draining of votes by the ultra-nationalist, ultra-orthodox Jewish Home party. Ofer Kenig of the Israel Democracy Institute has said that it is likely that “there will be an over representation of the religious and ultra-orthodox – approximately one in three according to the latest polls.” This is quite a considerable jump from the one in five seen at the end of voting in 2006 and further implies that there is a hardening of right wing opinion in Israel at present.

Mr Netanyahu, who has previously been seen as “disappointing” in his leniency towards Arab settlements in the West Bank and his acquiescence of demands made by President Obama, is expected to become more hard line than he has been previously. This is without doubt influenced by the sudden upsurge of nationalist sentiment, which itself is caused by the fear of external threats, such as the suspected Iranian nuclear weapons plan. Many within the Jewish Home party, expected to be the third largest party of the coalition with approximately twelve seats, are vehemently opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state. Further to this, they advocate the annexation of large swathes of the Palestinian West-Bank, believing that the Arabs there are the responsibility of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments.

With the likelihood of an ultra-right Israeli coalition coming to power, so too comes the potential for further trouble in the Middle East. Only a few months ago after sustained rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and other Israeli territories, the prospect of an Israeli ground invasion seemed imminent. If such a nationalistic and uncompromising government is truly established, it is likely that we will see further conflict in the region and a move away from the process of establishing a lasting peace.

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