Israelis vote in repeat election centred on PM Netanyahu

Dog days of campaign as Israelis return to polls

Opinion polls indicate Yisrael Beiteinu could hold the key to the next coalition because it is forecast to win double its representation in the Knesset, from five seats to 10.

Its election campaign focused heavily on Netanyahu's leadership and close relationships with world leaders, most importantly President Donald Trump.

Sometimes even a candidate whose party wins the most votes on the night does not become the prime minister if they can not form a majority coalition comprising at least 61 seats in parliament.

Netanyahu accused Facebook of buckling to left-wing pressure. This time around, an inflammatory message on his Facebook page - railing against "Arabs who want to destroy us all" - led to a determination that it violated Facebook's hate-speech policies.

The measure came as Israelis head to the polls in what is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu declared he would "apply Israeli sovereignty" in the Jordan Valley if he won.

He tried, and failed, to pass legislation that would allow cameras in polling stations, a step he said was needed to crack down on alleged fraud in Arab towns.

If it does, it would be the highest-ever showing for Arab candidates, and more or less in keeping with the community's actual numbers among the Israeli adult population.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List parties, distributes campaign material in Nazareth in August.

The turnout thus far Tuesday is close to the level reached by noon in the 2015 election (26.9%), and slightly above the level reached in 2013 (26.7%). It marked more than a 2% increase over the figure at the same time in April.

There was fear that voter apathy to an election so soon after the previous one would lead to a low turnout. Election day is a national holiday, a measure aimed at encouraging participation.

But turnout in the minority Arab sector was just below 50% and many Arab voters boycotted the election.

UK PM Boris Johnson, EU chief agree Brexit talks must 'intensify'
The Luxembourg prime minister had wanted to stage a joint news conference in front of a group of anti-Brexit demonstrators. The Supreme Court hearings will run until Thursday, with the verdict not expected until Friday at the earliest.

Speaking after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday, Abdullah said he was "extremely concerned" about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vow to annex all the West Bank settlements.

Retired military chief Benny Gantz cast his ballot on Tuesday alongside his wife near his home in the central Israeli city of Rosh Haayin.

Latest polls published by Israeli media suggest Likud will win 32 seats and the Blue and White 31.

If there is a repeat of April's results, Likud and Blue and White could both struggle to form a coalition with their allies and instead be forced into a unity government.

Outside his polling station, Gantz says "we will bring hope, we will be bring change, without corruption, without extremism".

Gantz is offering himself as an honest alternative to the scandal-plagued Netanyahu and his narrow coalition of ultranationalist and ultra-religious parties.

After casting his ballot in Jerusalem, Netanyahu predicted the vote would be "very close". He is seeking a fifth term against the prospect of a likely indictment on corruption charges.

Surveys have shown Netanyahu's Likud and chief rival Benny Gantz's Blue and White party are neck and neck, with neither able to put together a 61-strong coalition, but with Netanyahu only two or three seats away from being able to do so.

Failure to agree on this was among factors that led to the collapse of Mr Netanyahu's coalition in December 2018, triggering April's election.

It has called for a "secular unity government" to rule the country after the election.

Addressing supporters after the exit polls, Lieberman appealed to President Reuven Rivlin to invite Netanyahu and Gantz to meet as early as Friday, even before final results are in, to explore the formation of a national unity government.

Lieberman says there won't be a third round of elections and the parties will have to deal with the "constellation" that emerges from this vote. The already unprecedented general election is also the culmination of an existential drama for PM Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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