Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his supporters in a rally on Mar. 15 that he may not win re-election after the most recent polls show his Likud Party behind the Zionist Union Party, led by candidate Isaac Herzog.
Netanyahu has been appearing in public and in the Israeli media more than usual recently, attempting to rally enough support based on his campaign messages of Herzog being too dovish on foreign policy, an important aspect of Israel’s politics considering their tumultuous relationship with neighboring Iran.
In a campaign speech on Mar. 16 at Har Homa, a Jewish area thought of as an illegal settlement from the Palestinian community, Netanyahu addressed the public.
“We will preserve Jerusalem’s unity in all its parts," he said. " We will continue to build and fortify Jerusalem so that its division won’t be possible and it will stay united forever."
The Mar. 17 election is considered a referendum on Netanyahu’s reign as Prime Minister. While in the past most Israeli voters have elected officials who have focused on foreign policy issues, this year’s election is different. Most voters are concerned about the rising costs of living, housing and the economy as a whole, rather than how Israel will defend itself against its enemies.
Netanyahu also spoke about activist groups that have been funding the incumbent’s opponent. V15, the group looking to replace Netanyahu, has connections to Jeremy Bird, a former campaign strategist of President Barack Obama. Another American, Sheldon Addison, is assisting Netanyahu’s campaign.
Many expected Netanyahu to receive a rise in the polls after his controversial speech in Washington D.C. earlier this month, where he addressed the U.S. Congress on ongoing diplomatic talks with Iran and their nuclear energy program. However, voters did not credit the Prime Minister with higher approval ratings, instead calling for Netanyahu to focus more on the economy than foreign matters.
Current polling data shows Herzog’s Zionist Union leading with 25 seats to Netanyahu’s Likud Party with 21. However, under the Israeli election system, no party has ever won the 120-seat majority. Generally, whoever has the larger party will be given the right to “form a coalition," or take power.