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Netanyahu will not work with Islamist party, instead seek direct election

Israel still doesn’t have a leader a month after its fourth election in two years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now says he will seek a direct election for prime minister instead of forming a government coalition that includes the Islamist Ra’am party.

The news comes as Israel ended its nationwide mask mandate on Sunday and boasts the world’s most successful Covid vaccine program in the entire world. Currently, 8.6 million of Israel’s 9 million citizens have received at least one vaccine shot. Netanyahu is credited with the success.

After Israel’s fourth election in just two years on March 23, Netanyahu still does not have the support he needs to wrestle together a governing majority in parliament. Both Netanyahu and his opponents – a diverse bloc of parties on the right, left, and center – need Ra’am’s support to give them a 61-seat majority in parliament. Netanyahu and his opponents have courted Ra’am, which says it will commit to the side that promises the most support for Israel’s Arab community.

But courting support from Islamists and actually governing with them are two different things and many don’t have the stomach for it.

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“We don’t need Ra’am,” Netanyahu said during a press conference on Tuesday. “We need direct elections so we can form a government.”

“I want to get to the point where we are forming a right-wing government, and the way to do that without relying on one faction or another is direct elections,” Netanyahu said. “It is currently impossible to form a right-wing government because of personal matters.”

The proposal to trigger snap elections would need a majority of 61 members of parliament to pass, but it appears doomed after officials in the Ra’am party said it will probably not support the idea.

Israel previously held three direct elections for prime minister, in 1996, 1999, and 2001. The system was scrapped following widespread dissatisfaction and the country reverted to its current system – where Israelis vote for party lists instead of individual candidates.

The failure of the system is that no party has ever won an outright majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. Instead, larger factions must build governing coalitions.

Netanyahu has until May 4 to form a government and if he fails to do so, his opponents hope to cobble together an alternative center-left government. After that, Netanyahu could look at a new election.

The uncertainty over Israel’s leadership and prospects for a new election has not dampened plans to open tourism to foreign visitors. Israel is expected to begin allowing tourists to return beginning in early May.

–Dwight Wdiaman and wire services

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