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Israel's Netanyahu fights for new term after decade in power

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Israel's Netanyahu fights for new term after decade in power

By Dan Williams

 

2019-09-16T230243Z_1_LYNXMPEF8F1S9_RTROPTP_4_ISRAEL-ELECTION-NETANYAHU-PROFILE.JPG

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a battle for political survival in a closely fought election on Tuesday that could end his 10-year domination of national politics.

 

Opinion polls put former armed forces chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party neck-and-neck with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud, and suggest the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party could emerge as kingmaker in coalition talks.

 

The two main parties' campaigns in Israel's second parliamentary election in five months point to only narrow differences on many important issues: the regional struggle against Iran, ties with the Palestinians and the United States, and the stable economy.

 

An end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to lead to a big change in policy on hotly disputed issues in the peace process with the Palestinians that collapsed five years ago.

 

Netanyahu has announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinians seek statehood. But Blue and White has also said it would strengthen Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, with the Jordan Valley as Israel’s "eastern security border".

 

The election was called after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following an April election in which Likud and Blue and White were tied, each taking 35 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament.

 

Netanyahu, 69, has cast himself as indispensable and blighted by voter complacency over his tenure - the longest of any Israeli prime minister. He was prime minister from June 1996 until July 1999 and has held the post since March 2009.

 

Warning he may be replaced by "leftists" who would weaken Israel in the eyes of both foes and friends, Netanyahu has flooded the airwaves and social media with calls on his Likud faithful to turn out in force.

 

"It's up to you! The (Likud) lead is very small," he appealed hoarsely in a video message posted on Twitter.

 

TRADING BARBS

Polling stations are open from 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) until 10 p.m. when Israeli media will publish exit polls giving a first indication of the outcome.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz, 60, have tried to energise their bases, and poach votes from smaller parties.

 

Netanyahu portrays Gantz as inexperienced and incapable of commanding respect from world leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump. Gantz accuses Netanyahu of trying to deflect attention from his possible indictment on corruption charges that the prime minister has dismissed as baseless.

 

Hagit Cohen, a 43-year-old social worker, she would back Blue and White rather than her former favourite, the now fringe Labour party: "I don't want my vote to be wasted. Gantz may not be perfect, but enough is enough with Bibi (Netanyahu)."

 

Gantz also worries about public apathy. Interviewed by Army Radio, he urged Tel Aviv residents to "put down their espressos for an hour" and vote - a nod to the secular, middle-class constituency he hopes to mobilise against pro-Netanyahu religious-nationalists.

 

"There is a definite sense of fatigue. Many Israelis are fed up with the politicians, or expect more of the same," said Amotz Asa-El, research fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute.

 

Netanyahu, Asa-El said, "has always divided the electorate into 'theirs' and 'ours'. This time he's reading the political map even more closely and knows that he needs every extra vote."

 

Before the last election, Trump gave Netanyahu a boost with U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This time, the White House seems more preoccupied with Iran tensions.

 

Netanyahu's Jordan Valley announcement last week evoked little U.S. enthusiasm. The Trump administration plans soon to release an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that may prove a dead letter: The Palestinians have rejected it in advance as biased.

 

The Palestinians and many countries consider all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions relating to occupied territory. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

 

Still, the telegenic Netanyahu's open door in Washington and other world capitals, at a combustible time on Israel's borders with Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon, remains a big draw domestically.

 

"There's no one else running who is worthy of being prime minister," said Alon Gal, a 53-year-old hi-tech manager who plans to vote Likud after previously supporting a party further to the right. "With him, at least I know who I am dealing with."

 

Weeks of wrangling over who should be tasked with forming the next government could follow the election. Opinion polls indicate Yisrael Beiteinu could hold the key to the next coalition because it is forecast to win double its representation in the Knesset, from five seats to 10.

 

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

 

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2019-09-17

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reported troll remark removed.

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I'm sure he's fighting, he can probably see bars in front of his eyes.
Yep. He has a lot in common with that with his good buddy in Washington. No lie.

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At least, Israel has a decent, fair democracy/judicial system. Coorect me if I am wrong, but there have been several instances of very high-level Israeli politicians being tried (and some receiving jail sentences),_some of them in recent years. Can you say the same thing for the other countries in the region ? Nope ! For example, Turkey, whose current regime keeps criticising Israel (mainly due to Erdogan's aim of keeping his anti-Semitic voter base intact. Sad !) ?! Nope ! Turkey doesn't even come close to Israel in the quality/fairness of its democracy/judicial system

 

Having said that, I am not a big fan of the Israeli regime overall. And, certainly not a big fan of Netanyahu. I hope that he gets to lose today (of course, as polls suggest, if he loses, it will be a quite a close loss).

 

But again, having said that, I doubt very much that, (if Netanyahu loses) the new guy/guys will be able to for example find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe there will be more hope to that than that at Netanyahu's reign; but not too much hope for sure.

Edited by JemJem

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What the OP fails to relate is that any party coming out ahead will still need to form a coalition. Netanyahu is better positioned (more variation of potential partners) relative to the opposition. Currently, the three leading scenarios are - a slim majority right-wing government, a right wing-centrist unity government, or a rerun of the previous stalemate.

 

Speaking of similarities with Trump, Netanyahu already began to set the ground for (potentially) rejecting election results. Through public statements, messages to voters and even a failed blitz-legislation effort - rigged, cheating and irregularities, and stealing the elections being the keywords and catchphrases.

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