Israelis will head to the polls for the fourth time in under two years on Tuesday, hoping to end the political stalemate that began in December 2018 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated the first election.
There will be 6,578,084 Israelis eligible to vote for any of the 38 parties running in 13,685 polling stations across the country, including 750 special polling stations for the sick and quarantined due to COVID-19.
Exit polls will be broadcast at 10 p.m. Tuesday night on three television networks. But the real results from the normal polling stations will only be available on Wednesday, and some 430,000 double ballots from the special polling stations, soldiers, emissaries and prisoners will arrive by Thursday or Friday. The final results must be in by March 31.
The candidates spent the final day before the election in their strongholds.
Netanyahu campaigned at Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was in Haifa, and Yamina head Naftali Bennett met with business owners in Rehovot.
New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar prayed for success at the Western Wall, and the leaders of smaller parties called potential supporters along with telemarketers at their campaign headquarters.
Sa’ar issued an unprecedented attack on Bennett on Monday morning, hours after Bennett signed a document ruling out joining a government led by opposition leader Yair Lapid. Both Sa’ar and Bennett had made commitments more than a month ago to not sit in a Lapid-led government. Sources close to Bennett said he had changed nothing by putting the vow in print.
But Sa’ar took advantage of the letter to criticize his rival for votes on the Right and accused Bennett of making an alliance with Netanyahu.
“Now it is already clear, several meters before the finish line: Bennett collapsed into the arms of Netanyahu amid lies and political spin created by his master,” Sa’ar wrote on Twitter. “He failed in leadership. He failed in standing under pressure.”
Sa’ar said he was angry at Bennett for signing any document after he mocked Netanyahu’s requests to do so and because Sa’ar had evidence that Bennett had leaked a fake poll that said New Hope may not cross the electoral threshold.
In an interview with Channel 12, Sa’ar called Bennett “a despicable cheat.” Sa’ar clarified that he did not rule out rotating in the Prime Minister’s Office with either Lapid or Bennett.
In response, Netanyahu said Sa’ar had “let the cat out of the bag” and “revealed what he had been hiding.”
“Now that Bennett and Gideon are collapsing in the polls, they are starting to tell the truth,” he told Army Radio. “Voting for them will bring a government with Lapid and a fifth election.”
Bennett’s associates downplayed the letter, saying its only headline was its second part, in which Bennett promised not to form a government using the votes of Ra’am Party (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas.
Lapid also said he was not concerned about Bennett’s letter.
“There is a difference between Bennett on TV and radio and Bennett in private,” Lapid told KAN Reshet Bet.
Bennett had said nothing new, the Likud said in a statement.
“Bennett continues to avoid promising what we have been asking him for weeks,” it said. “He needs to rule out any government in which Lapid will take part. Whoever votes Likud will get Bennett in a stable, right-wing government. Whoever votes Bennett will get Bennett in a government with Lapid.”
The 24th Knesset will be sworn in on April 6. President Reuven Rivlin is set to give a candidate a mandate to form a government the following day.