Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz made their final appeals to voters on Monday ahead of crucial parliamentary elections that will determine if the longtime leader will win a record fifth term.
Netanyahu, 69, took to Facebook, where he spoke live and urged Israelis to vote for the Likud party.
“Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid know they are leading, every poll says so as well, and they blatantly say so! Everyone has to vote Likud, otherwise we would have a left government,” he claimed, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Gantz, 59, a former military chief of staff, leads the new Blue and White party along with Lapid, a former finance minister, and has inched ahead of the ruling Likud in the polls.
“We will replace the government because there is an urgent historical need,” Gantz told his supporters at his party’s Tel Aviv headquarters. “Netanyahu is running a desperate campaign in order to overcome his legal problems and we won’t let him.”
He added that “people realize that they have to make us the largest party, we are half a meter away from victory but we still need two more mandates. We will win.”
Gantz was greeted by his enthusiastic backers with drums and chants of “Here he comes, the next prime minister!”
Netanyahu has been buoyed by a close alliance with President Trump but faces looming legal troubles amid allegations that he manipulated the press through shady deals and accepted lavish gifts from his billionaire friends.
In February, the attorney general announced that Netanyahu would be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a July hearing in which he will be allowed to defend himself.
No law prevents Netanyahu – who has strongly denied the accusations – from extending his already 13 years in office while under indictment or on trial.
He also appears to have a better chance of forming a coalition government, with a smattering of small nationalist right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties promising to back him.
According to Israeli opinion polls, both Netanyahu and Gantz would fall far short of an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament, or Knesset, and would need to pull together a coalition.
Israelis don’t directly elect lawmakers or the prime minister, but vote for party tickets and seats are allocated in proportion to the number of votes won.
A party needs to secure a minimum of four parliamentary seats to enter the Knesset. No party has ever won an outright majority on its own.
Netanyahu — whose current coalition has a razor-thin majority of 61 seats and is composed of five parties — has made last-minute appeals to the right, issuing a deeply controversial pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
If performed on a large-scale, applying Israeli sovereignty in the territory could end any remaining hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
A victory by Netanyahu would propel him into the record books in July as the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion.
The son of a Jewish historian and scarred by the loss of his brother in the famed Israeli raid on a hijacked plane in Uganda in 1976, Netanyahu often portrays himself in historical terms and frequently warns about Israel’s lurking enemies, most notably Iran.
Similarly to Trump, Netanyahu also claims to be persecuted by the media, judges and other hostile “elites” in a message that endears him to his political base.
“He’s unprecedentedly gifted. He’s a competent political maneuverer and the most effective political communicator in Israel’s history,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
“And his personal motivation to continue to hold onto power is infinite,” he added.
The polls close at 10 p.m. Israel time Tuesday, or 3 p.m. EST. Preliminary results should be available a few hours later, with the final results likely to be announced two days after the vote.
A week later, President Reuven Rivlin will task a party with building a coalition.
That task doesn’t automatically go to the party with the largest number of seats, but to that considered best able to form a ruling coalition with at least 61 parliament members.
Parties need at least 3.25 percent of the votes to pass the threshold, a percentage that translates to a minimum of four out of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
With Post Wires