Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battled for his political survival in the final hours of a close-run election on Tuesday, urging voters to support him to avert a “disaster”.
His voice hoarse from weeks of campaigning, the veteran leader took to the streets and social media, at one point using a megaphone in Jerusalem’s bus station, to urge voters to extend his unbroken decade in power.
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.
Prohibited by law from campaigning on mainstream media, party leaders took to social networks to
Describing a possible outcome if his supporters did not vote for him, Netanyahu wrote on Twitter: “High voting percentage in left-wing strongholds. Voting percentages low in right-wing strongholds. Disaster!”
Without their support, “we will get a left-wing government with Arab parties,” he wrote.
Gantz posted a video of himself leaning out a car window in traffic during a random encounter with a supportive commuter. Gantz’s co-leader, Yair Lapid, urged left-leaning constituents to come out and vote and said “Bibi is lying,” using Netanyahu nickname.
The two main parties’ campaigns in Israel’s second parliamentary election in five months pointed to only narrow differences on many important issues: the regional struggle against Iran, the Palestinian conflict, ties with the United States, and the 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 Palestinians and many countries consider the settlements to be illegal.
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. It is the first time Israel has had two general elections in a single year.
Netanyahu, 69, has cast himself as indispensable and blighted by voter complacency over his tenure – the longest of any Israeli prime minister. Prime minister from June 1996 until July 1999, he has held the post since March 2009 and is seeking a record fifth term.
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