On Sunday, the prime minister made a campaign promise of direct flights between Israel and the Muslim holy city of Mecca. Israelis go to the polls Tuesday in an election whose outcome is uncertain.
The 20,000-person protest on Saturday was the latest, and the largest in months, in a series of demonstrations that have taken place outside the Prime Minister’s Residence regularly since the middle of last year. The protesters have called for Netanyahu to resign due to his ongoing corruption trial and his handling of various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for more than a decade straight, is leading in polls, with his Likud Party set to again win the most seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. But it remains unclear whether he and his allies will win a majority of seats in parliament, enabling him to form another government, whether his opponents will garner a majority or whether an inconclusive outcome will lead to another election.
Netanyahu has made a play for the votes of Israel’s Arab minority this year, campaigning on Israel’s recent normalization deals with Arab states. He has also had contacts with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, and on Sunday said in a radio interview that “We will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca.”
Netanyahu may not be able to fulfill that promise. Saudi Arabia has demurred on formalizing its relationship with Israel, and past Netanyahu campaign promises made on the eves of elections have not been realized. Ahead of previous elections in recent years, he vowed to annex parts of the West Bank, which Israel has not done.