Israel votes today to decide Netanyahu’s fate
JERUSALEM, Sept 16: Israel holds its second election in five months on Tuesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battles for political survival and the question of how religious the country should become emerges as a surprise issue.
Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, suffered one of the biggest defeats of his career after April elections, when he failed to form a coalition despite his right-wing Likud and its allies winning a majority of seats.
Rather than risk having Israeli President Reuven Rivlin choose someone else to form a government, Netanyahu, who could be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks, opted for a second election instead.
Final opinion polls released Friday indicate another tight race between Likud and the centrist Blue and White alliance led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz, and a repeat stalemate cannot be ruled out.
Voter turnout amid election fatigue will be a key factor along with the surprising emergence of issues related to religion and the state.
And once again, the poll will to a large degree amount to a referendum on Netanyahu.
The premier's controversial pledge to annex one-third of the occupied West Bank if he wins and his brief escort off stage at a rally due to rocket fire from Gaza have been among the issues dominating the campaign's final days.
"If there's anyone who can affect President (Donald) Trump and the Congress and public opinion in the US -- that's the real power there," Netanyahu said in a Friday television interview during which he sought to burnish his leadership credentials.
"How do you think I have these achievements? ... It's the experience."
His rival Gantz has talked up his security experience and sought to portray himself as someone who can restore dignity to the premier's office, a reference to the corruption cases against his opponent.
"I'm telling you, we'll beat him," Gantz said in his own Friday television interview.
"I'm here to change the country. Bibi's end is a necessary part of it," he added, using Netanyahu's nickname. -AFP