As Israelis go to the polls Tuesday in their fifth national election in three years, the world is watching and wondering if Benjamin Netanyahu will again become prime minister.
Whether or not the politician known universally as "Bibi" reclaims the office he held for 15 of the past 26 years depends on if his conservative Likud Party and its right-of-center allies reach what is known as "the magic 61" — a majority of the 120-seats in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament).
According to a new Israel Hayom poll, Likud tops the race and is likely to win 30 parliamentary seats outright. Combined with the votes of religious parties and its sister parties on the right, the poll showed, Netanyahu and Likud should win the magic 61.
But the same poll showed the Yesh Atid (There Is A Future) Party, the centrist party of incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid, getting enough votes to secure 25 seats. With the remaining seats likely to go to other anti-Netanyahu centrists, this will bring to 59 the number of members of Parliament who would not support a government with Netanyahu as prime minister.
Television channels 11, 12, and 13 in Tel Aviv had polls showing the pro and anti-Netanyahu blocs with 60 seats each. That would mean a deadlock, the likelihood of Lapid as acting prime minister, and a sixth election sooner rather than later.
"The center can't make a government, but Bibi can," said former Reagan administration official Marshall Breger, who has known Netanyahu and other high-level Israeli politicians for years.
Breger and others see the strong possibility of Israel's next prime minister being determined by the votes and parties of Arabs, who comprise about 1.9 million citizens in a country of 9 million.
In the last general election in 2021, four new Arab parties competed and about 71% of Arab voters turned out. The turnout and resulting showing of the Arab parties was pivotal to keeping Netanyahu's Likud from getting the magic 61. Mansour Abbas, leader of the Ra'am (United Arab List) Party, joined the "Anybody but Bibi" government.
Ra'am and Abbas are still running on their own and open to joining a future government.
But the other three Arab parties are running independently of Ra'am and will have no part of what Israeli Arabs call "the experiment" — joining a ruling government. The lack of unity among the Arab bloc could lead to a drop in the turnout among Arab voters.
"If turnout [among Arabs] drops from the 71% in 2021 to, say, 50% this time, the Arab parties won't have the seats they do and Bibi will win," Breger said.
If Netanyahu returns to power, it is a foregone conclusion his government will include such hardline parties as Jewish Power. Once shunned by most established politicians, Jewish Power and its fiery leader Itamar Ben Gvir have called for the deportation of what they consider "disloyal" Arabs.
At the same time, The New York Times reported Sunday that Netanyahu "has also been sending calming messages in Arabic to the Arab minority."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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