Israeli PM Netanyahu rules out Palestinian state if returned

Likud party believed to have largely reduced centre-left Zionist Union’s four-seat lead

Isaac Herzog, co-leader of the Zionist Union party, with supporters at his party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Nir Elias

As Israelis vote on Tuesday in the general election, sources from both main parties indicated on Monday night, according to internal polls, that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party has managed to significantly reduce the centre-left Zionist Union's four-seat lead projected by the last polls over the weekend.

In response, Tzipi Livni, the joint leader of the Zionist Union, declared that she would forego her rotation agreement with Yitzhak Herzog. Ms Livni joined her Hatnua party with Yitzhak Herzog's Labor to form the Zionist Union at the start of the campaign in return for a rotation deal that would have seen her – in the event of a victory – serve as prime minister after Mr Herzog, two years into the term.

Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu made a last-ditch attempt to win over right-wing voters by vowing that a Palestinian state would not be established as long as he remained Israel’s leader.

The pledge contravenes Mr Netanyahu's public endorsement of the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.


Up for grabs

With everything still up for grabs, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party has focused its efforts over the last few days on right-wing voters considering voting for smaller parties. Mr Netanyahu hammered home the message that the gap can be reversed and a left-wing government can be prevented, but only if the Likud increases its tally of mandates.

The Zionist Union focused its efforts on floating voters, with a preference for the centrist Yesh Atid party led by former finance minister Yair Lapid. Their message was a left-wing mirror-image of the Likud call: only a vote for Labour can prevent another Netanyahu government.

With the fate of the election in the balance, voter turnout could be a key factor, particularly among Israeli Arabs who make up 20 per cent of the population.

Electoral threshold

Right-wing parties pushed through legislation last year raising the electoral threshold to 3.25 per cent, hoping the move would lead to the demise of three small Arab parties. The three parties responded by merging under the Joint List, despite significant ideological differences. Voter turnout in the Arab sector has been significantly lower than in Jewish areas in recent elections but the formation of a single Arab list may reverse the trend.

Israel's multiparty system means that whoever is tasked by president Reuven Rivlin with forming a government (after he receives the recommendations of all the party leaders) will probably face weeks of coalition negotiations to reach the magic number of 61 seats.

Sources close to the president have indicated that if the result is close he may recommend a national unity government involving both the Zionist Union and the Likud. While Mr Herzog has stated that he wouldn’t object to including the Likud in a government he heads, Mr Netanyahu rejected the idea of a unity coalition, citing ideological differences too wide to be bridged.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem