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Benjamin Netanyahu fights for political future as Israelis go to the polls for second time in five months

  • Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

As it is in some other countries we can all think of, democracy in Israel is in a rut.

Political paralysis, division and antipathy have necessitated the second general election here inside five months.

There is little enthusiasm. Lethargy among the electorate can in part be explained by the negativity of it all. The campaign has been all about what the parties are against. It’s been nasty too.

Benjamin Netanyahu, this country’s longest serving prime minister, is fighting for his political future and personal liberty.

The Blue and White party is vying for power, with Benny Gantz on the campaign trail. Credit: AP

For him, jail is a serious prospect if pre-trial hearings on three corruption charges commence next month, as planned.

To put prosecution into the long grass Mr Netanyahu needs to win and persuade his coalition partners in the new government to grant him immunity.

Throughout his time in office his governments have been increasingly right wing.

In the countdown to tomorrow’s vote he has promised that if victorious he will annex Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Netanyahu is Israel's longest serving prime minister. Credit: AP

Such a step would kill off any prospect of a two-state solution. But the pledge is music to the ears of the right wing Israelis Mr Netanyahu needs to turn out and vote.

The final polls showed Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its main rival Blue and White neck and neck.

But all Israeli governments are coalitions and Mr Netanyahu looks better placed to attract the allies he needs for a 61-seat ruling majority in the Knesset.

The level of voter apathy will determine the result and again it’s Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners who are assured of the biggest turn-out. The ultra-orthodox for example, will do their rabbis bidding. The turn-out in that community is usually around 90%.

Final polls show the Likud Party and its main rival Blue and White neck and neck. Credit: AP

One of the big unknowns is the Arab vote. Arabs make up about a fifth of Israel’s population, but back in April they turned out in historically low numbers.

This time the Arab parties have formed one bloc and their leader Ayman Odeh is asking Arabs who have traditionally boycotted elections to change tack and turn out in droves.

To rile up his supporters and get them out Mr Netanyahu has been fear-mongering. Always liable to incite against the Arab community, that tactic reached a new low last week when a message appeared on his Facebook page – “The Arabs want to annihilate us all – women, children and men.”

His opponents portray Mr Netanyahu as a desperate man who will do and say anything to win this election and stay out of prison.

His fans see him as a reliable leader who has kept Israel safe and prosperous. Few here are betting against him.