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Political Machinations Continue Ahead of New Israeli National Vote

Israel’s political landscape continues to be remolded ahead of the country’s September 17 national election, the second time citizens will go to the polls this year. In the latest development, former Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked announced that she would lead the New Right Party, which she formed with then-education minister Naftali Bennett prior to the vote in April. (Bennett agreed to step down as party leader in order “put Israel ahead of my own personal good.”) In a speech on Sunday night, Shaked called on parties to the ideological right of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party to join forces with her, a prospect analysts believe could happen in order to forestall the loss of votes should smaller, non-unified factions fail to cross the 3.25 percent electoral threshold. On the other end of the political spectrum, newly elected Labor Party chief Amir Peretz is facing an insurrection after other high-ranking party figures protested his decision to sign a merger agreement with Gesher party leader Orly Levy-Abekasis instead of with the left-wing Meretz party or former prime minister Ehud Barak’s newborn Israel Democratic Party. For his part, Barak remains under fire for his alleged ties to disgraced US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, whereas Meretz is seen as teetering somewhere along the electoral threshold. All of this comes as most polls show Netanyahu’s party slightly ahead of the centrist Blue and White list, which received an equal number of seats as the Likud in the last election. However, the kingmaker is likely to be former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, who is credited with preventing Netanyahu from forming a coalition earlier this year. Liberman seems poised to hold enough political power in September to determine whether the prime minister can cobble together his preferred right-wing coalition or be forced to form a national unity government. Netanyahu, who is facing possible criminal indictments in three separate cases, on Saturday became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.