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Israel Votes to Decide on Netanyahu's Fate

Israel Votes to Decide on Netanyahu's Fate

Tuesday, 17 September, 2019 - 07:00
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in his residency in Jerusalem February 28, 2019 REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

Israel began voting in its second election in five months Tuesday to decide whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will stay in power.

Polls opened at 7:00 am and were due to close in most areas at 10:00 pm.

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old right-wing leader who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.

Ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's former right-hand man turned rival, could play a kingmaker role with his campaign to "make Israel normal again."

Lieberman cast his vote early on Tuesday in his settlement of Nokdim. Lieberman forced Israel's unprecedented second election of the year when he refused to join Netanyahu's coalition government after the previous election in April.

Polls suggest Netanyahu won't be able to form another coalition without Lieberman's support.

Lieberman said there won't be a third round of elections and the parties will have to deal with the "constellation" that emerges from this vote.

He said he will only sit in a wide government that includes Netanyahu's Likud and the Blue and White alliance.

Some 6.4 million people are eligible to vote.

The first exit surveys will be released just after polls close, while official results are not expected until Wednesday.

Opinion polls have indicated another tight race, showing Netanyahu's Likud and Blue and White winning around 32 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz paid a last-minute visit Monday night to Jerusalem's Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.

The danger for Netanyahu extends beyond remaining prime minister, a post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.

If he wins, many believe he will seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution while facing the possibility of a corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

Recognizing the stakes, Netanyahu spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists -- key to his re-election bid -- and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts have included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up a third of the occupied West Bank.

Israel's newly reunified Arab parties could prove decisive with a performance similar to 2015 elections, when they became the third-largest force in parliament.

If so, they could block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.

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