Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu owes his victory in last week’s Israeli elections partly to a change in election rules promoted by the political opponents he is now shutting out of power, CNN analysis of the November 1 results shows.
Netanyahu and his allies are set to have a small but clear majority of seats in parliament, the Knesset, but they won the popular vote by only a razor-thin margin.
One reason his Knesset majority is bigger than his popular vote victory is that three parties in the outgoing Knesset each got less than 3.25% of the popular vote – so they get no seats in the new parliament.
The irony of the situation is that it was Avigdor Liberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid who pushed to raise the threshold from 2% to 3.25% in 2014, when they were political allies of Netanyahu and in government with him.
Partly because of the rule change they wanted, they’re now part of the outgoing coalition that he defeated. The Lapid-Liberman coalition would have gained seats if the threshold was still 2%.
Another reason Netanyahu won decisively is that two small parties in the anti-Netanyahu camp didn’t join forces with bigger parties, one of Israel’s leading pollsters said.
If the left-wing Meretz party had run on a joint ticket with Labor, and the Arab party Balad had not broken away from the Joint List party they ran with last time, then Tuesday’s election would have produced a 60-60 deadlock, Camil Fuchs, a leading Israeli pollster, told CNN Monday.
Both parties failed to cross the threshold: Meretz won 3.2% of the popular vote and Balad took 2.9%. Together they drew less than 300,000 votes.
All the votes for those parties were effectively discarded.
The popular vote was extremely close.
If all the votes for the parties in the outgoing Knesset are counted, Netanyahu and his allies come out less than 40,000 votes ahead of their opponents, out of more than 4.7 million votes cast.
There were 40 parties running in the November 1 election, of which 13 got more than 0.5% of the popular vote.
Five of those 13 – Likud, Religious Zionism/Jewish Power, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Jewish Home – are on the pro-Netanyahu side of Israel’s political divide. Together they took 49.6% of the popular vote, final results from the Central Election Committee show – about 2.36 million votes.
The other eight are anti-Netanyahu and took 48.9% of the popular vote, or about 2.33 million votes – a difference of 0.7 percentage points, or just over 30,000 votes.
The exact number of votes per party will be certified on November 9.
But the electoral threshold rule worked in Netanyahu’s favor. Only one of the parties on his side, Jewish Home, failed to get more than 3.25% of the total vote; they got 1.2%, or 56,760 votes – and would have been forced out of the Knesset under the old 2% rule, anyway.
The threshold has been decisive in at least one previous election. Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister in 1992 although the left lost the popular vote; a right-wing party failed to cross the threshold, which was 1.5% at the time.
Iranian lawmakers issued a letter on Sunday to the country’s leadership calling for severe punishments to be meted out to those found guilty of being involved in the protests, according to state-run Press TV.
The letter was signed by 227 of Iran’s 290 members of parliament, and it compared some of the protesters to ISIS militants.
The letter from the MPs also reiterated government claims that the ongoing protests were incited by the United States and other enemies of Iran. Iran has provided no evidence to back up its claims of foreign involvement in the protest movement.
Here’s the latest:
- Video posted on social media showed Iranian beach soccer player Saeid Piramoon celebrating after scoring a goal against Brazil by doing a symbolic move mimicking hair-cutting, apparently in support of protesters.
- Iranian woman Nasrin Qadri died in Tehran on Saturday after “suffering severe injuries” caused by baton blows to the head wielded by Iranian security forces, according to Kurdish human rights group Hengaw and activist outlet IranWire. Nasrin’s father said in an on-camera statement that aired on state television that his daughter died of the flu.
- Asked about the situation in Iran, Pope Francis didn’t specifically address it specifically but said that a society that does not value women’s equality is one that will not progress.
British PM to raise issue of jailed British-Egyptian writer with Egyptian leadership during COP27 trip
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has written to the sister of jailed British-Egyptian writer and activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who is imprisoned in Cairo, saying he is “deeply committed” to resolving her brother’s case. In the letter to Abdel-Fattah’s sister, shared with CNN by his family, Sunak said he was “very concerned” to hear of the writer’s “deteriorating health,” adding his case “remains a priority for the British government.”
- Background: Abdel-Fattah is a leading activist in the country’s 2011 uprising who has been imprisoned over the course of nine years. He was sentenced most recently in December 2021 to five years on charges of spreading false news.
- Why it matters: Abdel-Fattah escalated a more than 200-day hunger strike on Sunday as he stopped drinking water, his sister, activist Sanaa Seif, tweeted. In a letter written to Sunak and shared with CNN, Seif said: “It is my sincere belief that if Alaa is not released within the coming days that he will die in person, quite possibly while you are in Egypt.” A UK foreign ministry spokesperson told CNN in a statement that the government was working hard to secure Abdel-Fattah’s release.
Iran acknowledges drone shipments to Russia ‘before war’; Kyiv says Tehran is lying
Iran acknowledged for the first time on Saturday that it had supplied Moscow with drones but said they were sent before the war in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said a “small number” of drones had been shipped a few months before Russia’s February invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Tehran of lying.
- Background: In recent weeks Ukraine has reported a surge in drone attacks on civilian infrastructure, notably targeting power stations and dams, using Iranian-made drones. Russia denies its forces have used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine. “We shoot down at least ten Iranian drones every day, and the Iranian regime claims that it allegedly gave little and even before the start of the full-scale invasion,” Zelensky said.
- Why it matters: The European Union last month agreed to new sanctions on Iran over drone deliveries, and Britain imposed sanctions on three Iranian military figures and a defense manufacturer. Amirabdollahian repeated Tehran would “not remain indifferent” if it were proven Russia had used Iranian drones against Ukraine.
Sweden to distance itself from Kurdish groups in bid to join NATO
Sweden’s new government will distance itself from the YPG, a Kurdishmilitia, as it tries to win Turkey’s approval to join NATO, Reuters cited Sweden’s foreign minister as telling Swedish radio on Saturday.
- Background: Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and its political branch PYD to be extensions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which launched an insurgency against Turkey in 1980 and is regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Sweden, along with the US and several other NATO countries, has supported the YPG in the fight against ISIS.
- Why it matters: Turkey has vowed to block Sweden’s application to join NATO if it doesn’t stop supporting the militia group. The Swedish move comes just days before Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson is due to travel to Ankara to try to convince Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to let Sweden join the military alliance. Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO earlier this year as a direct consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
What to watch
Toomaj Salehi, An Iranian rapper who has used his politically charges lyrics to call for protests, was arrested by the Islamic Republic and charged with crimes punishable by death. The underground artist had been rebelling against the regime for years.
CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh tells his story here:
Around the region
Long before world leaders began flocking into Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for the COP27 climate summit on Sunday, Australian activist Mike Smith had been laboring on the country’s River Nile banks, picking up used plastic bottles.
His mission resulted in the creation of a large, three-story pyramid of nearly 1 million compressed plastic bottles, put together on display in Egypt’s Giza plateau just days ahead of the summit.
“It’s an audacious project we’re launching, with an aim of cleaning the planet every year, for the next 100 years,” Smith told the Australian Associated Press. “The goal is to be able to pull 15 million water bottles worth of rubbish out of the natural environment, every year, all around the world.”
The activist has been campaigning to reduce the proliferation of single-use plastics for years with attention-grabbing projects.
Last year, he used his start-up, Zero Co, to push Australian households to eliminate single-use plastics from their homes. And in 2020, he reportedly went snorkeling with more than 3,000 plastic bottles strapped to his back to raise awareness of the dire effects of ocean pollution.
As world leaders arrive in Egypt to begin this year’s climate summit, Smith told the Australian Associated Press that he will be sleeping in a small tent on top of his plastic-bottle pyramid.
COP27 runs from Sunday till November 18.
By Nadeen Ebrahim