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Israel: Final polls show Netanyahu just one seat short of majority ahead of election

Another deadlocked election on Tuesday could mean Israel going to the polls again within months
Benjamin Netanyahu is aiming for a record sixth term in office (Reuters)

Final polls in Israel are predicting that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could come within a single seat of an outright majority, with the country only days away from its fifth election in less than four years

Two polls, one released late on Thursday by Israel's Kan public broadcaster and another published on Friday by the Maariv newspaper, both showed the Netanyahu bloc of four parties winning 60 of parliament's 120 seats in Tuesday's vote, just one seat short of a majority.

The results would mark a remarkable comeback for Netanyahu, who faces trial for corruption, charges he denies, but are unlikely to break the political deadlock that has seen the country lurch from one unstable coalition government to another. 

A deadlocked election could mean Israel would go to the polls again within months, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid remaining in office as caretaker.

Going into Tuesday's election, Netanyahu has allied himself with Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, which is on track to pick up 12 to 14 seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

In the past, Smotrich has called for apartheid-style segregation between Jewish and Arab women in the country's maternity wards. 

As well as domestic tensions, analysts have also pointed out that any alliance between Netanyahu's Likud party and Religious Zionism is also likely to come under strain with regard to the country's foreign policy.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed is reported to have warned Netanyahu in private that any cooperation with extreme right-wing parties could damage nascent relations between the countries. 

'European fascist'

Another controversial ally of Netanyahu as he bids for a record sixth term is Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit.

Ben-Gvir has previously called for disloyal politicians to be deported from Israel, along with Palestinians who throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police.

Earlier this month, Yaakov Katz, the Jerusalem Post's editor-in-chief, called Ben-Gvir "the modern Israeli version of an American white supremacist and a European fascist".

"He is a threat to the future of Israel's fragile democratic character, and if he gets his way - and Netanyahu gets his 61 seats - these two men will have the ability to demolish the country as we know it," said Katz. 

Israel has faced several election cycles since 2019, the year Netanyahu, now 73, was charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three cases that he describes as a "rigged" political witch-hunt meant to keep him out of office.

According to the Israeli Central Elections Committee, 209,000 first-time voters will participate in next week's election who did not vote in March 2021, the last time elections were held.

Many of those voting for the first time, the majority of whom are Jewish, are expected to favour right and far-right parties over the left.

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