Election polls predict Israel’s Netanyahu just shy of victory

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Polls on Friday predicted Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would come within a single seat of an outright majority in his quest to return to power in next week’s election, the fifth in less than four years.

Netanyahu, on trial for corruption charges he denies, has been vying for a comeback, aided by an alliance between his Likud party and far-right party Religious Zionism - a pact that could test Israel's foreign relations if it wins the ballot.

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Two polls - one released late 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.

“Netanyahu arrives at election day in good shape, but the battle has not been decided,” wrote Haaretz newspaper’s political analyst Yossi Verter.

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

Israel has been caught in an election cycle since 2019, the year Netanyahu, now 73, was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases which he describes as a “rigged” political witch-hunt meant to keep him out of office.

After four inconclusive votes, Israel’s longest-serving leader was ousted in June 2021 by a fragile coalition of liberal, rightist and Arab parties, which included Lapid’s centrists.

In Netanyahu’s bid for a record sixth term, he has allied with ultranationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose inclusion in a Netanyahu cabinet could upset Israel’s Western allies, as well as the Palestinians and Arab countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations.

The campaign has largely center around Netanyahu with security and diplomacy issues, including conflicts with the Palestinians and Iran, taking a back seat.

Netanyahu’s rivals, left right and center, have vowed to keep him out of office, fearing that if Netanyahu's bloc wins, it will bend Israel's legal system to avoid a conviction.

The polls predicted the anti-Netanyahu bloc winning 56 seats and the Arab-led Hadash-Ta’al list, which has said it will not join a coalition, getting four seats.

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