Could this finally be the one? We’re into the final week of campaigning before Israel holds its third election in a year, hoping to finally break the political deadlock that has evolved between incumbent Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. Yet recent polling suggests that neither has managed to swing enough voters their way to radically change the result of the last ballot.
The country is now entering uncharted territory. Having a third election in such a short period – and just six months after the second – is unheard of. But even more unusual are the circumstances surrounding the man at the centre of the storm: Netanyahu is facing three separate corruption investigations and will have to appear in court in March, right in the middle of predicted coalition negotiations. He is the first sitting prime minister in Israel’s history to be indicted – he dismisses the whole affair as an “attempted coup”. But it has done little to dent his popularity: in December Netanyahu won a party leadership poll by a landslide. He has been in power for more than a decade and is clearly bent on staying in position for as long as possible, consequences be damned.
As part of his bid to clinch a fourth term, he is desperately hunting for allies. Most of the usual smaller parties have refused to go into government with a prime minister in the middle of criminal proceedings. As a result, Netanyahu has had to look further right on the spectrum than he might normally. In a bid to garner support, last week he announced 6,200 new homes in contested East Jerusalem – considered by many occupied territory (which means that settlements there violate international law). The upshot, sadly, is that Israel is more divided than ever.