Netanyahu’s pledges to annex West Bank areas fail to bolster pro-settlement vote
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Netanyahu’s pledges to annex West Bank areas fail to bolster pro-settlement vote

Likud and right-wing ally Yamina heading for fewer seats than expected, despite PM’s campaign efforts to shore up nationalist support

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement, promising to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement, promising to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-ditch effort to boost nationalist support before the election, with promises to annex large parts of the West Bank and warnings about the Trump peace plan, his Likud party and its right-wing allies won fewer votes than expected in Tuesday’s general election.

With 95 percent of the vote counted by Wednesday afternoon, Likud was hovering at 31 seats against central rival Blue and White’s 32, with neither party capable of mustering a majority coalition. Surveys conducted in the weeks leading up to the election showed Netanyahu’s Likud polling at around 34 seats; it had won 35 seats in April, and later merged with the four-seat Kulanu party.

Yamina, an electoral alliance of three smaller national-religious parties, was set to win 7 Knesset seats according to Wednesday’s tally, well below the 10-12 seats it was projected to win in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Yamina, made up of the New Right, the National Union and the Jewish Home, struck an electoral agreement to run under a single ticket to ensure all three parties passed the electoral threshold. The alliance led by Ayelet Shaked was formally dissolved shortly after the polls closed Tuesday night, but the parties vowed to work together during coalition negotiations.

The poor performance by Yamina and Likud left Netanyahu unable to form a majority right-wing coalition for the second time in a year. A Likud-led bloc made up of Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina falls at least four short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, the near-final count shows. The right-wing bloc has been decisively weakened by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s refusal to sit in a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked (L) and party No 2. Naftali Bennett speak to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Ellison/Flash90)

Yamina campaigned on a nationalist, pro-settlement platform and earned the backing of national-religious rabbis and settler leaders. The alliance, which was guaranteed a place in the next Netanyahu government, was predicted to sweep the vote in many West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu also spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base. Those efforts included pledges to annex the Jordan Valley, “all the settlements” in the West Bank, the Jewish enclaves in Hebron and other unspecified “vital” areas.

But outreach efforts to the religious-nationalist right fell flat; some expected Yamina voters plumped for Likud while others opted for the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism.

Voting patterns in some West Bank settlements like Kiryat Arba, that were considered to be Yamina strongholds, were more favorable than expected to the Likud. In April, 54 percent of voters in the Hebron-area settlement cast their ballot for Shaked’s New Right or Yamina’s antecedent, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, while 33% voted for the Likud. On Tuesday, Likud won the most votes in Kiryat Arba at 33%, narrowly beating the favored Yamina which garnered a disappointing 32% of the 3,300 votes cast.

Other than vowing to stand behind Netanyahu as he attempts to broker a majority coalition, Shaked and the other Yamina leaders have not addressed the results.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Likud supporters in Tel Aviv, early in the morning of September 18, 2019, after elections the previous day. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israelis went to the polls Tuesday in the second election this year, after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following April’s vote, sparking the dissolution of the Knesset.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Netanyahu also warned that Israel needs a leader capable of pushing back against the Trump administration’s peace plan, which is expected to soon be released.

Critics blasted Netanyahu’s pledges, saying that if carried out, they would inflame the Middle East and eliminate any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing an independent state.

Netanyahu’s political rivals dismissed his talk of annexation as an election ploy, noting that he has refrained from annexing West Bank territory during his more than a decade in power.

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