JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on Monday to greet supporters at a popular market in central Jerusalem on the eve of a hotly-contested general election.
Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, the main cog in a bloc of right-wing parties, appeared relaxed during his visit to the Machane Yedhuda market but is set to face an election challenge from a coalition of centrists, the Blue and White movement fronted by Beni Gantz.
With just hours until voting begins for the April 9 general elections, some candidates were meeting at their headquarters, others were taking part in marathon phone canvassing sessions or taking to social media to encourage the electorate to out and vote while others met with their bases as campaigning entered the home straight.
On Sunday, Netanyahu, who is campaigning for a fifth term in office, urged voters to back his Likud outfit and warned that the country’s right-wing rule was “in danger.”
He reiterated his controversial election promise to extend Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank – a policy that may appeal to his base.
His main rival Gantz, however, told Israeli army radio that voters should choose a path of unity and hope and move away from the “extremism” of Netanyahu’s premiership.
Recent polling suggests Gantz’s Blue and White big tent coalition, formed with the merger of the Israel Resilience Party, Yesh Atid, which is led by Yair Lapid, and Telem was on track to secure the most votes in the general elections.
Polling also suggested Gantz would nonetheless fall short of the required seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to form a majority, which was expected to once again fall to Netanyahu’s Likud and its allies in the chamber, which include the likes of the New Right.
A future right-wing coalition government was therefore not “in danger” said political analyst Yuval Karni, writing in the Yediot Ahronot, a local newspaper.
He said the right-wing bloc had a “clear majority” over any possible centrist, left-wing and Arab bloc in polling, which indicates Lukid and its partners would keep hold of around 63 or 64 of the 120 parliamentary seats up for grabs.
With around 40 different parties running in the election, one thing that is almost certain is continued political fragmentation in Israel, a trait that has historically hindered any single party’s chances of commanding a majority.
Other parties fighting for political relevancy include Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), the far-right party of former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and the pacifist Meretz party, which is against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and believes in the two-state solution.
Israel’s police were applying the final touches to their election security operation, with the expected deployment of 17,000 agents, border police and volunteers charged with maintaining public order as the roughly 6.3 million registered voters decide on who to vote for in one of the 10,000 polling stations across the nation.