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Netanyahu fights for political survival as Israel goes to the polls

Israelis have begun voting in their second general election of 2019, which will decide if long-time leader Benjamin Netanyahu can stay in power despite corruption allegations.

Mr Netanyahu is the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, and is looking for his fourth consecutive term in office. He was prime minister from June 1996 until July 1999 and has held the post since March 2009.

The election comes amid heightened tensions in the gulf after Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil facilities were attacked, with Iran being blamed. Tehran denies the claim.

An Israeli man prepares a polling station during Israel's parliamentary election in Rosh Haayin, on September 17, 2019. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Israelis are voting in their second election of the year

The Knesset, or parliament, voted to dissolve itself in May, just one month after the election, because nobody could form a working coalition.

Polls suggest that the election could be close, with the centrist Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, a retired military chief, running even with Mr Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud party – meaning they could be forced into a unity government should either of them fail to form majorities with smaller parties.

In April’s election, the Likud party took 38 seats in the Knesset and the Blue and White Party took 35.

The Israeli parliament is made up of 120 seats, and, with most laws only requiring a simple majority to pass, parties need 61 seats to take control.

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Mr Netanyahu is positioning himself as a statesman who is in a unique position to guide Israel through a challenging time, but Mr Gantz is trying to paint his rival as scandal-plagued and divisive.

Israel’s attorney general recommended that Mr Netanyahu face criminal charges in three separate corruption cases, pending a delayed pre-trial hearing which is scheduled for October.

Mr Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

He has taken a hard line during the campaign. He controversially pledged to extend Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, and to annex all the Jewish settlements in the area, despite the diplomatic repercussions.

RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu points to a Jordan Valley map during his announcement on September 10, 2019 in Ramat Gan, Israel. Netanyahu pledges to annex Jordan Valley in Occupied West Bank if Re-Elected on SEPTEMBER 17th Israeli elections.  (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)
Netanyahu vows to annex part of West Bank

The pledge drew widespread international criticism, including from Europe and Arab nations.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned Mr Netanyahu’s plans, calling him a “prime destroyer of the peace process”.

Mr Netanyahu has also boasted of his close ties to Donald Trump and mooted a defence deal between the two nations shortly after the election.

An Israeli man holds his dog while casting his ballot during Israel's parliamentary election at a polling station in Rosh Haayin, on September 17, 2019. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Polls close at 10pm local time

He recently re-named an Israeli settlement after the US president, calling it Trump Heights, in honour of Mr Trump.

Voting began at 7am local time (5am BST), with exit polls expected at 10pm local time (8pm BST).

Attention will later turn to the country’s President Reuven Rivlin, who is responsible for choosing who he believes will be the best candidate for prime minister. This is not always bestowed to the leader of the largest party.

Who ever is chosen by Mr Rivlin will then have six weeks to form a working coalition to govern with.

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