Odie Balilti / AP
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, faces the toughest political battle to survive in years, as the country holds unprecedented re-election on Tuesday.
This is the second time the Israelis will participate in the ballot box in less than six months. Netanyahu, 69, forced a last-minute transfer just weeks after the April elections because he secured a narrow victory but failed to build a parliamentary majority.
The results of Tuesday's election could be just as unconvincing, casting a cloud over Netanyahu's political future and potentially prompting another round of elections.
The Israeli leader risks losing not only the prime minister's post for more than a decade since 2009, after his first premiership from 1996 to 1999. He faces possible charges in three corruption cases. If he wins the re-election, he is expected to take steps in parliament to secure his immunity from prosecution and a possible sentence. In order to do so, he must first defeat a centrist party of former generals in the army, which he has committed to in the last election.
It's a complicated race and a crowded field: Nearly 6 million voters have to choose from 30 lists of candidates representing many different parties or groups of parties. No more than 10 lists are expected to win enough votes to gain seats in the Parliament of the Knesset, Israel.
Why does Israel have more choices?
At the vote on April 9, Netanyahu's right winged the Likud Party, tied to the centrist son and white alliance, each winning 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament. The right-wing parties allied with Netanyahu received the most votes, so he had the first chance to form a coalition.
In order to complete the coalition, he had to include the secular right-wing party of former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has traditionally been associated with Russian-speaking voters. But at eleven o'clock, Lieberman demanded Netanyahu's promise to make it difficult for Orthodox Jewish men to evade compulsory military service. Netanyahu needed ultra-Orthodox parties to secure a majority and disagreed.
With the right wing government, Netanyahu could try to bring together a more diverse coalition of center-left politicians and even turned to the left-wing Labor Party with a last-minute offer. But these parties would not agree to support steps to protect Netanyahu from prosecution.
Usually in Israel, when the victor fails to build a majority coalition, an opponent is given a chance to form a government. Netanyahu abolished this option by organizing a quick midnight ballot to disperse parliament and call new elections before anyone else had a chance to take his place.
Can anyone beat Netanyahu this time?
Likud's main opponent is still Blue and White, led by former Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Ganz.
60-year-old Gantz made his debut in Israeli politics after retiring from a military career in 2015. He partnered with journalist turned politician Jair Lapid, hawk Moshe Jaalon, who serves as defense minister for Netanyahu and a former military chief Gabby Ashkenazi's headquarters.
The Blue and White Campaign casts its quartet of leaders as a pure alternative to Netanyahu's dividing rule, legal woes and potential far-right partners. "Netanyahu only cares about Netanyahu" is a common slogan of the campaign. Another tells voters to choose between "blue and white or an extreme immunity government." And she shifted her messages recently. Instead of focusing on Netanyahu's replacement, he now calls for a "government of secular unity." This could mean joining a coalition with Netanyahu's party – as long as the blue and white lead the government.
What are the main election issues in this round?
As it was in April, the election will be a vote for or against Netanyahu's continued leadership. During the past decade of Netanyahu, Israel's economy has grown and Palestinian attacks on Israelis have been lower than in the previous decade. But critics say his pursuit of self-preservation is now shaping the country's politics, setting it on a path that deviates from democratic values.
He appealed to right-wing voters, promising to annex the Jordan Valley, a long stretch of the West Bank, and to exercise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied land that underlies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A spokesman for the United Nations said such a move would be a blow to peace efforts. Many Israelis see this as a pledge on the last moat that the leader can go back.
Audit Balilti / AP
Palestinian Arab citizens are also in the spotlight. The four Israeli parties in Israel are already merged into a Joint List and polls show that their community's low turnout may increase. Unlike the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel have voting rights in the country, accounting for about one-fifth of Israel's population, which gives them the power to tilt the scales against Netanyahu. But they are debating whether to vote in a state with a Jewish majority at all, they say it discriminates against them. Netanyahu has targeted Arab voters and lawmakers and is trying to pass a law that allows polling stations to be shot against alleged fraud by Arab voters. Critics have accused him of repressing voters.
Noam, a new religious Jewish anti-gay party, dropped out of the race Sunday after stopping at the ballot box. Netanyahu struck a deal with the right-wing pro-marijuana party, Zehut, to abandon the race in the hope of Netanyahu's party winning its constituencies.
The small, far-right anti-Palestinian Jew The party in power is still in the race and Netanyahu urged his supporters to vote Likud, as he is convinced that the Jewish authorities will not receive enough votes to enter parliament.
Only one main ticket is held by a woman. Yamina, a union of right-wing religious settlement parties, is led by former Justice Minister Ayleth Shake. In the left ticket to the Democratic Union, there is a woman, Steve Shafir, in slot # 2.
by Odd Balti / AP
Can President Trump help Netanyahu win?
President Trump tweeted on Saturday that he and Netanyahu are discussing a possible mutual defense treaty between the US and Israel. The announcement just days before the election may aim to stimulate Netanyahu, who is campaigning for his close ties to Trump. Billboards across the country show that the two leaders are shaking hands.
Netanyahu stated that such a pact would enhance Israel's security while maintaining freedom of war.
His opponent Ganz said it would be a "grave mistake" to require Israel to coordinate security with the US. "We have not asked anyone to be killed for our sake, we have not asked anyone to fight for us and we have not asked anyone for the right to defend the State of Israel," Gant told a recent conference.
Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel under President Obama, told NPR that an official on both sides had repeatedly concluded that the mutual defense treaty was "unnecessary and
Likud advertising campaigns say Netanyahu is in a "different league", a global influencer now subject to inexperienced internal rivals.
The White House's latest headlines have tested Netanyahu's campaign. Trump has expressed his willingness to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, despite Netanyahu's hard line against Iran .And Netanyahu's close ally, US National Security Advisor John Bolton, left the government. Together, according to analysts, the moves could be seen as a blow to Netanyahu.