Israeli vote in municipal elections delayed by Gaza war

Israeli vote in municipal elections delayed by Gaza war
Other voters who have been evacuated from areas near Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon forced to wait until later in the year to cast a ballot.
3 min read
27 February, 2024
An Israeli woman casts her vote in the twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war in Gaza [Getty]

Israelis began voting Tuesday in twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war in Gaza.

Soldiers had already cast their ballots over the past week at special polling stations set up in army encampments in Gaza as fighting rages on killing more than 30,000 Palestinians.

Polls opened at 7am (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10pm (2000 GMT).

More than seven million people are eligible to vote in the elections for local councils across most of Israel, in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and parts of the illegally annexed Golan Heights.

The vote, first scheduled for 31 October, has been pushed back to November 2024 in towns and villages bordering the besieged Gaza Strip or Lebanon, amid almost daily clashes between with Hezbollah and Hamas.

Nearly 150,000 Israelis have been displaced by hostilities in those areas.

The elections were delayed after Hamas's unprecedented 7 October attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, according to Israeli figures.

Israel's offensive against Hamas has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, most of them women and minors, according to the territory's health ministry.

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Two candidates for council chief in Gaza border areas were killed in the October 7 attack: Ofir Libstein in Kfar Aza and Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, who was shot dead at her home in Nir Oz with her husband and three young children.

In Jerusalem and other major cities, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish candidates aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political allies are running against government critics and more moderate candidates.

Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

National springboard

Tel Aviv's mayor of 25 years, Ron Huldai, is seeking re-election in a race against former economy minister Orna Barbivai and lawyer Amir Badran, who hopes to become the Israeli commercial hub's first Palestinian mayor but faces long odds.

If elected, Barbivai would be the first woman in the job.

In Jerusalem, another Palestinian lawyer, Walid Abu Tayeh, had announced he would run but ultimately did not submit his candidacy.

The elections for municipal and regional councils are largely seen as local affairs, though some races can become springboards for politicians with national ambitions.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had a brief stint as prime minister before Netanyahu returned to power in late 2022, said Tuesday's vote shows "there is no problem" holding elections even during the war.

In a post on social media platform X, Lapid called for a snap parliamentary election "as soon as possible" to replace Netanyahu.

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Voter turnout in the last round of local elections, in 2018, stood at 59.5 percent, lower than any of Israel's five parliamentary elections since 2019.

Most Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament.

Palestinian residents make up around 40 percent of the city's population, but many of them have boycotted past elections.

The first results are expected later Tuesday. Second round run-offs will be held where necessary on March 10.