Israel election: Netanyahu wants a win to stave off trial as his rivals battle on

From Lieberman to Gantz, those who want to end the ten-year rule of the outgoing prime minister are riding high. Trump’s support for Bibi didn’t come this time. A source told AsiaNews that if the PM wins the probe into corruption charges against him will end. There are tensions and concerns over possible vandalism at polling stations.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israelis go to the polls tomorrow for the second time in less than six months to elect a new Knesset (parliament). This could land outgoing premier Benjamin Netanyahu a fifth term in office or end his ten-year hold over government.

He faces rivals who are more than capable of standing their ground, from former ally Avigdor Lieberman to the main challenger Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue White coalition. For Netanyahu, a victory at the polls would likely stop the inquiry and trial into corruption charges against him.

The latest polls confirm the uncertainty, with a possible head-to-head match between Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Blue White coalition, with Lieberman and the religious parties playing power brokers.

In April Netanyahu won the elections, but failed to obtain a majority in Parliament (61 out of 120). Today the challenge seems even greater and, unlike five months ago, US president Donald Trump has not come to the rescue of his Israeli ally with a clear endorsement.

An anonymous government source told AsiaNews that "Netanyahu’s political survival is at stake and only a victory could protect him from any pending corruption trial."

“Tensions are running high in the country and there is concern about vandalism at some polling stations to influence the outcome of the vote, especially among voters of Russian origin who are close to Lieberman".

Israel’s "million Arab voters" are also being closely followed, said the source. In their case, "there is uncertainty about their actual participation and how they will vote.”

At least, ten parties are expected to elect members to the Knesset. Surveys indicate that extreme right-wing parties should make gains and play a major role in determining who forms the government.

"All parties have appealed to their voters to come out,” the source explained. “In particular, Netanyahu's rivals are hoping for broad participation to end his reign.

Israeli politics continues to be among the most volatile in the Western world. Since its founding, the State has had 34 governments, lasting on average just over two years each. Tomorrow’s election will be the fourth since 2013.

Since 2009, the Israeli government has been dominated by right-wing coalitions that include the Likud (secular-nationalist), and a number of right-wing and religious parties.

The latter have often dictated the government's agenda and are responsible for some of the most controversial measures taken by the government in recent years.

In mid-campaign, in an attempt to win a larger majority in the Knesset and avoid the stalemate that followed the April election, Netanyahu said that he would annex all the settlements, including the Jordan Valley.

This sparked anger among Palestinians, as well as several in the Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia, with whom Israel had developed a closer relationship against Iran.

For Netanyahu, Tehran remains the gravest international threat to the country’s survival, whilst at home, he has repeatedly warned against the "Arab danger",

In addition to boosting Israel’s colonial policy, Netanyahu also sought to have CCTV cameras plated at the polling stations, ostensibly to guarantee the vote, this according to the ruling party. Opponents of the government saw it for as a means to intimidate Arab and other voters. In the end, the Knesset blocked the bill and killed the electoral ‘big brother’.

Israel’s President is also closely following the election, the source told AsiaNews, "Especially after the TV debate between Gantz and Netanyahu when, in response to a question, the outgoing prime minister did not clearly indicate that he would return the mandate to the president if he could not form a government. Five months ago, he pushed for the vote, now the situation raises new and more pressing questions."

In the end, the election will play out "on voters’ turnout and the role of small right-wing parties, which could ultimately back Netanyahu in exchange for post-election concessions.”