Benjamin Netanyahu fights for future in do-over election
Here are the projections – from Israel’s three main news channels -- for the two largest parties in Israel’s general election.
Note: Previous experience tells us that there can be considerable discrepancy between exit polls and actual results.
Likud -- 32
Blue & White -- 32
Channel 12 News
Likud -- 33
Blue & White -- 34
Channel 13 News
Likud -- 31
Blue & White -- 33
By law, the first exit polls released on election day come out at 10 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET). This will give us the first idea of where the parties stand.
The calm before the storm of the exit polls.
It is a bit subdued at the Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, and not full at all, but that's to be expected, as many of Benjamin Netanyahu's supporters are still out canvassing with less than an hour to go.
It's also worth noting that there is little faith in the exit polls, so many here will wait for actual results to come in to get a better sense of how this night will go.
Outside the Blue and White Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, a sign suggests it will be a long night.
This banner reads: “Entrance from 1:00 a.m., go have a cup of coffee in the meantime.”
The Blue and White Party is possibly trying to cool down excitement, after Benny Gantz jumped the gun with an early victory speech in April.
Before April's election, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, overturning decades of US foreign policy.
He had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit the Western Wall, accompanied by Netanyahu. Such a move was unprecedented, since foreign dignitaries generally visit alone because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the Old City of Jerusalem.
And Trump also designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror organization, for the first time putting a foreign governmental body on the list.
Netanyahu glowed in the spotlight of Trump's decisions. And he was thrilled to plaster posters of the two leaders shaking hands all over Israel.
Meanwhile, his opponents could only stand silent in awe. They supported -- generally -- the announcements Trump had made. And anyway, Trump's popularity in Israel meant there was little to be gained electorally by coming out against him.
But Trump's announcement of a potential defense pact this past Saturday was different. It wasn't only security experts who criticized it. Even politicians felt bold enough to call it into question.
The underwhelming gesture from the White House, and the disapproval it provoked, begs a question that even a few weeks ago would have seemed crazy: In terms of his impact on the political fortunes of Benjamin Netanyahu, has Israel passed peak-Trump or are Israelis past peak-Trump?
An air of desperation, perhaps something close to panic, entered the Likud campaign as polls showed them evenly matched by the centrist Blue and White party of rival Benny Gantz in the lead up to Tuesday's vote.
To beat them, polling shows that Netanyahu needs every right and far-right wing vote he can garner.
Dogged by allegations of corruption in three cases that may yet lead to his indictment, "Bibi" Netanyahu used to be known as the "Teflon PM" -- the man against whom bad stuff just would not stick at home. Internationally he's a household name.
He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, denouncing the investigations as a media-led "witch hunt."
But as some of the alleged muck at home has begun to stick, so his campaign has emphasized Netanyahu's standing as a significant player on the world stage.
The Benjamin Netanyahu Facebook page leads with a heady video montage of his meeting with US President Donald Trump, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and speeds up as he glad-hands his way around the world's capitals meeting less famous (or less enthusiastic) heads of government.
Billboards show him with Putin, Trump and Modi alongside the slogan "a league of his own."
His pitch is clear.
Two weeks after the election, Benjamin Netanyahu is due to face a pre-indictment hearing over three separate graft probes.
The attorney general has said he plans to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery and breach of trust, pending the final hearing. The Prime Minister has maintained his innocence and refused to step down, opening up the possibility that he will become the first sitting Israeli leader indicted on criminal charges.
An outright victory in the elections could provide him the opportunity to pass legislation that would give him immunity from prosecution.
The results of this election may hinge on voter turnout. In April's election, turnout stood at 68.5%.
Analysts say a lower figure favors Benjamin Netanyahu, since it works to the advantage of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, who generally succeed in getting large numbers of their supporters to the polling stations. But, if turnout is high across more secular communities, and among Arab voters, then that could be in Benny Gantz's favor.
Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says turnout tends to be higher in tight races. But Israelis are also suffering from voter fatigue, forced to go through another election in such a short time span. Whichever of these opposing forces is more dominant Tuesday may have a large impact on the final results.
Now it's time for round two, where a second opportunity to win also means another to lose.
If, as elections polls have suggested all along, there is political deadlock once more, the only thing certain would be political uncertainty.
In the lead up to Tuesday's re-do ballot, Benjamin Netanyahu has conducted a last-minute media blitz, doing interviews with the major TV channels, newspapers, and radio stations.
He has turned to social media, tweeting at a furious pace in recent days and hosting Facebook Live videos.
Netanyahu has also boasted about his tight relationship with US President Donald Trump; billboards across the country are plastered with photographs of the two of them together.
And in Trump-like fashion, Netanyahu has warned of election fraud, accusing Arab voters -- along with the left -- of trying to steal the elections.
In an attempt to energize his base, Netanyahu has reverted to his time-tested strategy: Warning supporters he is on the cusp of defeat, unless they get out and vote.
"Right now, we're losing," he said in a Sunday night campaign video. "If you go out and vote Likud, we'll win."
And he has made a sharp push to the right, promising to annex parts of the West Bank if he wins the election.
Turnout as of 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) was 53.5%, compared with 52.0% at the same stage in April’s election, according to Israel's Central Election Committee.
By comparison, the same figure in 2015 was 54.6%.
One of the fears going into this campaign was election fatigue, so turnout has been watched particularly closely.
Throughout the day, Election Commission data has showed turnout slightly up on April’s election, suggesting predictions about a tight race might have spurred people to the ballot box.