Israel election live: Netanyahu's Likud has the edge in gruelling vote

Latest news, results and reports from Israel's election

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Israelis headed to the ballot box on Tuesday after a heated election campaign where allegations of corruption, sexual harassment, ties to Iran and racism were made to win votes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to win a fifth term, becoming the country’s longest serving leader. If he survives until November he will pass the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion.

About 6.3 million Israeli citizens were excepted cast their votes for the Israeli Knesset on Tuesday, but turnout appears to be slightly lower than the last election.

Here you will find the latest news from the country's elections.

The full story: Divided Israeli electorate deny Benjamin Netanyahu clear win

Read more: Everything you need to know about Israel’s election 

Opinion: Netanyahu and Gantz are two sides of the same coin

All times UTC+4


11:00 With 94 per cent of the vote counted, here's the layout of the new Knesset



10:30 Gantz and Netanyahu both claim victory

Last night both Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory in Israel's elections.

For one of the leaders, their announcement was premature. At the moment it looks like Mr Netanyahu will be given the opportunity to form a government, but we still need to wait for all the votes to be counted, and President Rivlin to say who he wants to attempt to form a coalition first.


08:35 Likud leader projected to win fifth term

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was projected to win a fifth term in office on Wednesday morning.

The victory, despite corruption allegations against the 69-year-old premier, puts him on a path to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister later this year, after 13 years in power.

His Likud party looked set to finish with a similar number of seats in parliament to his main rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance.

Read our full report here


07:00 Netaynhu grinding towards victory

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud party leader, seems to be on track to fend off his challenger Blue and White's Benny Gantz.

Ynet, an Israeli news website, reported that both Likud and Gantz’s party had 35 seats with 97 per cent of precincts reporting, but Likud has a clearer path of forming the next government.

“It’s too close to call but the tendency leans toward Netanyahu’s side,” said Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at Hebrew University. “We have to wait till we have the final results. Right now Netanyahu looks like he’s in a better position than Gantz” to form a coalition.

Mr Netanyahu and his party allies are projected to get between 65 and 67 seats in the 120-seat parliament.


05:00 Gantz closes gap as 2.7 million votes are counted

Blue and White is catching up with Likud. With 2.7 million ballots counted, the Likud is still leading with 27.5%, but Benny Gantz's party is on its tail with 26%, reports Times of Israel.

With 65% of the votes counted, Shas keeps its 6%, UTJ hovers just over 5%, and Yisrael Beytenu and Labor receive more than 4%, followed by Hadash-Ta’al with 3.9%, Kulanu with 3.6%, and the URWP and Meretz with 3.5%.


03:20 Netanyahu: nearly all right-wing parties will back us

Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his "victory" speech in Tel Aviv, in which he accused the media of being biased in its coverage of the election.

"Tonight I have been in conversations with the heads of right-wing parties, our natural partners," Mr Netanyahu said.

"Tonight nearly all have publicly stated they would recommend me form the next government. I intend to finish the job soon. I'm going to be the prime minister of all citizens of Israel."


03:00 Updated exit polls give Netanyahu's Likud the edge

Channel 12 and Channel 13 have updated their exit polls as the official ballots are counted.

Both networks’ revised samples indicate Netanyahu’s Likud will win 35 seats, compared to Blue and White’s 34.

The Likud leader is due to speak shortly.


01:50 Israel's Channel 13 says Netanyahu is leading so far

Israel's Channel 13 said that after counting 229,837 votes, Likud looks as if it is leading the elections so far. Blue and White had 24.78 per cent of the votes while the Likud party had 29.44.


01:20 Gantz hails 'historic day', declaring victory again

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz arrives at his party’s election event, to rapturous applause.

Joined by Yair Lapid, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon, the centrist challenger said: “This is a historic day. More than a million people have chosen hope.

"Our nation and our society has chosen to unite, chosen to flee divisiveness.”

After thanking Benjamin Netanyahu for his “service to the state,” he said he would respect the will of the people and form the next government.

“We are the winners,” Mr Gantz said.


00:55 Hadash-Ta'al leader Odeh highlights criminal investigations into Netanyahu

Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh has responded to the exit polls.

“Our people remain, despite Netanyahu and [former defence minister Avigdor] Lieberman and the fascists," Mr Odeh said.

“One more thing: a year from now, we will be giving speeches from the Knesset podium and Bibi [Netanyahu] will be in Maasiyahu prison. Good riddance."

He was referring to criminal investigations into the Likud leader.


00:50 Senior Palestinian official says Israelis voted "no" to peace

A senior Palestinian official says Israelis had voted “no to peace” after exit polls following the country’s general election showed its left-wing parties were badly defeated, AFP reports.

“Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo. They have said no to peace and yes to the occupation,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said.


23:30 Netanyahu has begun discussions with party heads to join his coalition

Benjamin Netanyahu has begun discussions with heads of parties to join his coalition, his spokesman says.

Both the Blue and White and the Likud party are claiming victory after exit polls showed they were neck and neck.

“A right-wing bloc led by the Likud party won a clear victory," Mr Netanyahu said. "I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust.”

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid also declared: “We won. The Israeli public has had their say.”

“These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser,” they said. “The president can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option.”


23:25 Bennett tries to reassure backers 

Hardline politician Naftali Bennett tried to reassure his backers that they would meet the electoral threshold needed to win seats in the Knesset after the exit poll projected his New Right party falling short.


23:25 Blue and White celebrate as Likud feels flat

While supporters chanted, sang and waved flags at the Blue and White post-poll party, the scenes in the Likud event were muted, the Times of Israel reported.


23:20 Arab turnout less than 50 per cent 

Voter turnout as polls closed indicated less than 50 per cent of eligible Arab voters cast a ballot.

Arab leaders were making a last-minute push to implore their followers to head to the polls.

Ayman Odeh, a leading Arab legislator, broadcast on Facebook live while religious leaders sent out calls on mosque loudspeakers.

The exit polls projected Arab Hadash party taking six seats but the United Arab List-Balad winning none.

Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh (C) of the Hadash party speaks during a Facebook live video event at the party's headquarters in Nazareth in northern Israel on election tonight on April 9, 2019. / AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI
Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh of the Hadash takes to a Facebook live video to implore Arabs to turn out as polls draw to a close. AFP


23:15 Gantz takes slim lead in exit polls

The three exit polls from the Israeli TV channels all indicate a slim lead for Benny Gantz. In the past, exit polls have been out by several seats.

Polls say:

  • Blue & White 37 seats - Likud 35 seats - Channel 11
  • Blue & White 37 seats - Likud 33 seats - Channel 12
  • Blue & White 36 seats - Likud 36 seats - Channel 13

So on average, that's Blue and White 37 seats - Likud 36 seats.


21:45 Just over an hour to go

Voting ends at 10pm local time. TV stations will immediately publish exit polls giving a preliminary indication of the number of Knesset seats parties have won and which leader stands the best chance of piecing together a government.


20:25 Knesset without Arab representation 'seems a realistic option'

Ayman Odeh, leader of the mainly Arab Hadash party, has again urged voters to get to the polls.

He just tweeted: "We continue with all our strength, going from house to house and calling people to vote. Our nightmare, which is the Prime Minister's fantasy – the Knesset without representation of the Arabs – suddenly seems like a realistic option."


20:00 Gantz attends to injured cyclist

Benny Gantz stopped his car on polling day to help an injured motorcyclist on a highway, local media reported.

A video shows a jacketless Mr Gantz, who was the chief of Israel's military before joining politics, bending over the helmeted rider next to a crashed motorcycle, getting updates from people at the site before squatting down to exchange a few words.

"Where does it hurt, if it hurts?" he asked.

Mr Gantz then placed a gentle hand on the rider's chest, telling him: "We're deliberately not moving you, you'll need to have patience," before asking if anyone had aspirin in their car.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives thumb up to his supporters after casting vote during Israel's general elections in Rosh Haayin, Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives thumb up to his supporters after casting his vote. AP Photo

Painkillers were not immediately available, but someone handed a pack of wipes to Mr Gantz, who used one to mop the distressed motorcyclist's brow, cheeks and neck.

According to Channel 12 television, the prime ministerial candidate directed an ambulance to the site of the accident on Highway 4, a main artery running from northern to southern Israel parallel to the Mediterranean Sea, and remained there until medics got to work.


19:49 Abbas hopes elections will bring peace

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he hoped that Israel's parliamentary elections could help to bring peace.

Without supporting a particular candidate, Mr Abbas said he was following the elections.

He said he hoped the new government would understand "peace is in ours, theirs and the world's interests".

"All that we hope is there will be a just way, a correct way to reach peace," Mr Abbas said.

"We don't need any government that doesn't believe in peace."

Mr Abbas, whose government is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, repeated that the Palestinian leadership would be open to negotiations.

But he has frozen ties with the White House over US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and has vowed not to co-operate with the peace plan Washington is expected to release.


18:47 Arab turnout could be lowest for decades, pollsters say

Top pollsters are saying their exit polls show some of the lowest numbers of Arab voters turning out on election day, local media report.

"Voter turnout in the Arab community is something we've never seen before," one pollster said.

The Arab vote has been split with the breakup of the Joint List, which ran as four parties combined in 2015. This time, two mergers were facing off against one another, the Hadash-Ta'al party and the Ra'am-Balad alliance.

Both are set to pass the 3.25 per cent threshold to enter the Israeli parliament.


18:35 Arabs say they voted to oppose Netanyahu with 'full force'

Compared to Jewish-majority neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, only a few election signs are dotting the streets of Beit Sfafa, which is split between Palestinian citizens of Israel who can vote, and residents of East Jerusalem, who cannot.

But Rami Ghaith, 36, insisted that voter turnout would be high today, despite calls in Arab communities for boycotting elections.

Mr Ghaith, the manager of a government healthcare centre, was greeting voters outside a nondescript polling station inside a school in Beit Sfafa. About 10.30am, a few voters trickled in and out.

Mr Ghaith voted for Ahmad Tibi and his Arab Movement for Change party, aligned with the Arab-majority communist party, Hadash, in this election. He encouraged all Arabs to vote to continue their "existence in this country".

Osama Saadi, 55, number four on the Arab Movement's list and a Beit Sfafa voter, had a similar message.

"In terms of the boycotters, I think after everything Benjamin Netanyahu did with the racist incitement and entering the fascist right, and wanting to annex the occupied areas into Israel and annex the Golan and the moving of the embassy and recognition of Jerusalem, I think that the only response is to go vote and to vote with full force," Mr Saadi said.

He said he hoped today to oust Mr Netanyahu and the extreme-right parties with whom the prime minister has aligned.

The Arab politician expressed his support for a two-state solution that includes ending the occupation and ensuring Arabs inside Israel have equal rights.

This used to be the standard line Israeli and American politicians touted, whether they believed in it or not. Now, in this election, this kind of talk is an outlier.


17:20 Thousands flock to beaches on Israeli national holiday

Election day is a national holiday in Israel and unseasonably warm weather in the country pushed thousand's of people to the country's coast.

After voting, many spent time with family at a barbeque, went trekking in the mountains or visited the local mall.

Israelis enjoy a day at the beach during parliamentary election day, in Zikim beach, southern Israel April 9, 2019. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen
Israelis enjoy a day at the beach during parliamentary election day southern Israel. Reuters


16:50 Dreams of citizenship for Palestinian youth

Mira Attieh, 20, stood out at the quiet voting station in Abu Tor, a mixed Jerusalem neighbourhood with a wealthier Jewish part and poorer Palestinian side, Miriam Berger reports.

The Hebrew University student appeared to be the only Muslim. As voters trickled in about 10am she was also the only Palestinian – and the only one there who could not vote.

One of about 350,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem, Mira is not an Israeli citizen. But she wants to be.

Mira Attieh stands outside a polling station in Abu Tor, east Jerusalem. Miriam Berger for The National
Mira Attieh stands outside a polling station in Abu Tor, east Jerusalem. Miriam Berger for The National

Two months ago she applied for Israeli citizenship, a precarious process she hopes will only take a year.

In the meantime, she supports Meretz, an Israeli leftist party, as she thinks it has the best chance of bringing equal rights for Jews and Arabs.

Elections, Mira says, "are very important for everyone here" as they will decide the future for the coming years.

"As an Arab person I love this country a lot," she said. "I want it to have a big future."

Standing by the Meretz table, beside a larger one for Blue and White supporters, she said the most important thing in this election was for all electors – Arabs included – to vote out the extreme right who "tear apart all of the people, not just the Arabs".

In the meantime, she's hoping that by the next elections she will get the vote.


15:20 Netanyahu's party admits hiring observers with hidden cameras

epa07493468 An Israeli Arab elderly citizen from Taiybe town casts her ballot at a polling station, during the Elections of the 21st Knesset (parliament) of Israel, 09 April 2019. According to the Israeli statistics bureau; about 6.3 million eligible voters will be able to cast their ballots at some 10,720 polling stations across the country. In order to win Knesset seats, party must pass a threshold of at least 3.25 per cent of the national vote, equivalent to four seats.  EPA/ATEF SAFADI
An Israeli Arab elderly citizen from Taiybe town casts her ballot at a polling station. EPA

Likud, the party chaired by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, admitted hiring 1,200 election day observers equipped with hidden cameras, The Times of Israel reported.

The cameras were given to observers in areas with high Arab populations.

Likud said the cameras were intended to catch voter fraud but Hanan Melcer, chair of the Central Elections Committee, said secretly filming voters is illegal.


14:25 Voter turnout lower than last elections

Early reports indicate that the turnout in Israel's election is lower than in 2015, the Central Elections Committee said.

The turnout is 24.8 per cent at noon, they said, which is 2 per cent lower than the last elections.


13:36 The path to Israel's next Knesset and prime minister

Thirty-nine parties are on the ballot in this year's election, but not all of them will make it to the Knesset, even if they win a significant number of votes.

Parties will have to win at least 3.25 per cent of the vote to win a seat in the parliament.

When the Knesset was dissolved at the end of 2018, there were 10 parties in the parliament. It is not clear how many there will be this time.


Exit polls when the voting closes will give us an early indication of which parties have won seats and who is the largest party. Results will come in throughout the night.

But this doesn't mean we will know who is prime minister, or even who will get the opportunity to form a government.

That decision is up to Israel's president who will give the first opportunity to form a government to the most popular person nominated among the parties with seats.

If right-wing parties perform better or as well as they did last time, Mr Netanyahu is expected to be nominated again.


13:20 Arab party says hidden cameras were meant to prevent 'Arab citizens from voting'

Hadash-Ta'al, the Arab-majority party, has criticised placement of hidden cameras by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party in Arab majority polling stations.

“The extreme right understands our strength and ability to topple the government and is crossing all red lines, using illegal means, to interfere and prevent Arab citizens from voting,” the party said.

“But we know our strength. We’re going to vote today despite them.”


12:52 Netanyahu urges voters to 'choose well'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their votes during Israel's parliamentary elections in Jerusalem, on April 9, 2019. Israelis voted today in a high-stakes election that will decide whether to extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's long right-wing tenure despite corruption allegations or to replace him with an ex-military chief new to politics. / AFP / POOL / Ariel Schalit
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their votes during Israel's parliamentary elections in Jerusalem. AFP

On the day he is seeking a historic fifth term in office, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged voters to "choose well", before casting his ballot.

"This is a sacred act, the essence of democracy, and we should be thankful for that," Mr Netanyahu said at the Jerusalem school where he voted.

"You need to choose well but I can't tell you for whom. Or I can, but I'm not going to. God willing, Israel will win."


12:30 Reports of Likud cameras in Arab polling stations

Israeli police say they found members of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party wearing hidden cameras in polling stations in Arab towns, in an attempt at voter intimidation.

Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the Arab Movement for Change party said a complaint had been filed to the police.

The chair of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, is investigating the claims, The Times of Israel reported.

Photos of the cameras show small black cameras that can be attached to lapels, with a thin black box attached by a wire.

Police reportedly removed the cameras from the Likud party elections monitors but allowed them to continue working.


12:10 Ayman Odeh: We vote for hope

Ayman Odeh, leader of Hadash-Ta'al party, holds up his ballot paper as he stands behind a voting booth and carries his son on his shoulders as Israelis began voting in a parliamentary election, at a polling station in Haifa, Israel April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Ayman Odeh, leader of Hadash-Ta'al party, holds up his ballot paper as he stands behind a voting booth and carries his son on his shoulders as Israelis began voting in a parliamentary election. Reuters

Israel's most prominent Arab politician Ayman Odeh cast his ballot with his son on his shoulders, striking a tone of optimism.

"We vote for hope for a better future for all of us, an alternative to the racist regime that has ruled here for the past decade," he said.

Mr Odeh had sought to rally Arabs living in Israel to vote in the elections, arguing against a boycott of votes.


10:50 Party leaders complain of missing or vandalised ballots

Two parties in Israel have complained that their ballots are being vandalised or are missing, The Times of Israel reports.

Yisrael Beytenu, a right-wing party, said that party members in two cities have reported ballot papers going missing.

Meanwhile, Meretz, a left-wing party, said their ballots were vandalised.

Ballots that are vandalised or damaged could be invalidated.


10:10 Benny Gantz: Let's make this happen

Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, gestures as he speaks to members of the media as Israelis began voting in a parliamentary election, near a polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Nir Elias
Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, gestures as he speaks to members of the media as Israelis began voting in a parliamentary election, near a polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin. Reuters

The leader of the centre-right Blue and White coalition, Benny Gantz, arrived at a polling station in his home town to cast his ballot.

Arriving at the station flanked by supporters, Mr Gantz said, "Let's make it happen", The Times of Israel  reported.

"I'm happy to place myself at the service of the state of Israel," the former military chief said.

"I'm happy to stand for the good of the citizens on a new path. We shall respect democracy and call for a respectful and quiet day from all sides."


9:20 How to vote: no mark required

Israelis do not need to mark their ballots to vote. Instead, they select a slip with a Hebrew symbol of their preferred party.

The slip is then placed into an envelope. Politicians have been posting pictures of the voting slips, encouraging Israeli citizens to vote.


08:48 Vote, then to the beach

Election day is a national holiday in Israel, meaning that many people, after voting, will be heading to the beach to sunbathe or to national parks for barbeques.

Transport across cities is free for the day, helping people get to their polling stations.

Israel is having extremely warm temperatures for this time of year, potentially pushing many people to the coast for cooler air.


08:35 Netanyahu claims he requested Trump designation of Iran Guards terror group

The Israeli Prime Minister claimed that US President Donald Trump's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group was made at his request on Monday night.

Mr Netanyahu warmly thanked Mr Trump for "acceding to another one of my important requests", in a Hebrew tweet translated by The Times of Israel.

Mr Trump did not mention Mr Netanyahu in the designation.


08:18 Last night: last-minute pitches to voters

Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, takes a selfie together with supporters outside the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, takes a selfie together with supporters outside the party headquarters in Tel Aviv. Reuters

On the eve of the vote, the two main contenders made their final pitches to voters.

Mr Netanyahu claimed to be Israel's essential statesman, while Mr Gantz played to Netanyahu-fatigue, presenting himself as someone other than the incumbent.

"Who else can do this? Who can do this? Come on. Honestly," Mr Netanyahu said, touting his success on the international stage.

"Who can stand in front of the world? Who can stand in front of the American Congress? Who can move public opinion in that direction?"

Meanwhile, speaking on army radio, Mr Gantz said: "There's a need for change and an opportunity for change. Israel needs to choose a direction of unification, connection and hope – or of extremity."


08:10 President Rivlin's message to Israelis: Vote

Writing in local media, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin urged Israelis to participate in the elections.

"Israeli democracy needs you.
"Israeli democracy needs a torrent of voting slips.
"Israeli democracy needs your faith in it, today," he wrote, saying that for him, elections have always felt like a festival.


08:00 Polls open in Israeli elections

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks next to a voting booth and ballot box at a polling station as Israelis vote in a parliamentary election, in Jerusalem April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks next to a voting booth and ballot box at a polling station as Israelis vote in a parliamentary election, in Jerusalem. Reuters

The polls have opened in Israel's parliamentary elections, beginning a day of voting for 6.3 million Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a record fifth term, while political newcomer Benny Gantz is seeking to dethrone the leader with a more moderate platform.

About 10,720 polling stations will operate across the country.

Mr Netanyahu is expected to vote in Jerusalem at 11.30am, while Mr Gantz will cast his ballot in Rosh Hayin at 9am.


Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warns two-state solution at risk

Saeb Erekat, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization of the Palestinian National Authority speaking during the Session "The Two-State Solution in a Multiconceptual World" at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre before World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2019. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Jakob Polacsek
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaking at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. World Economic Forum / Jakob Polacsek

A senior Palestinian official warned that the Israeli prime minister’s campaign pledge to annex West Bank settlements will be the death knell of the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Liberation Organisation secretary general and negotiator Saeb Erekat said that if the Israeli government moved to annex West Bank territory, as promised by Benjamin Netanyahu on Israeli TV on Saturday, the Palestinian Authority would cease to exist.

“We have reached a point that to me as the Palestinian Authority, now I am not sustainable,” Mr Erekat said in a panel.

“That is the number one warning I am giving to everyone. The Palestinian Authority may have to play a disappearing act. It cannot be sustained.”

Mr Erekat said that annexation of some settlements, combined with recent funding cuts to the Palestinian Authority and the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, left the body without funds or the authority to act as a governing entity.

"The politics of Netanyahu, particularly the annexation of settlement blocs in the West Bank, will lead to the destruction of the Palestinian Authority," Mr Erekat told The National.

“In its place will be a Palestinian state in Gaza under the flag of Hamas. This seems to be what Netanyahu and Trump want.”


Arab leader rallies against vote boycott to oust Netanyahu

Arab Israeli Knesset Member Ayman Odeh (L) speaks to the press as he stands next to the  head of the Arab Israeli Islamic Party's southern branch, Abbas Mansur, after a hearing at the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 14, 2019, ahead of the upcoming general elections next month. - Arab parties represent the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land when Israel was created in 1948 and constitute nearly a fifth of the country's population.
The Joint List has separated and now Hadash, the communist party headed by Ayman Odeh, is running with Ahmed Tibi's Taal. Nationalistic group Balad joined forces with Raam, which represents the southern branch of the Islamic Movement. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Arab Israeli Knesset Member Ayman Odeh speaks to the press after a hearing at the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem, ahead of the upcoming general elections next month. AFP

Ayman Odeh is explaining to young activists at his party’s Nazareth headquarters the importance of “doing everything we can to bring down” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

If the Arab parties had won just two more Knesset seats three years ago, he says, they could have defeated the Netanyahu government’s bitterly controversial law defining Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people”.

The country's Arab minority said the law officially turned them into second-class citizens.

Mr Odeh explains that abstention from the vote in 2019 is really a vote for Mr Netanyahu.

Persuading Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 17 per cent of the electorate, to vote this week is preoccupying Mr Odeh, 44, leader of the left-wing, mainly Arab Hadash party.


Quick answers:

Who are the main contenders?

The election is seen as a contest between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and former military chief and political newcomer Benny Gantz's Blue and White Party.

Who is set to win?  

Mr Gantz's coalition of three parties is set to win more votes, but Mr Netanyahu will probably form the governing coalition because of his close ties with right-wing parties who propped him up last time.

Why was the election called?

Mr Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset on December 26. His early election call was provoked by a series of corruption cases and an impending indictment. He rolled the dice on facing any corruption hearing with a fresh mandate as the newly elected leader of Israel. If that backfires, he could face time in prison.

When do polls open and close?

Polls open at 7am local time on Tuesday (8am UAE time) and close at 10pm local time. There will be early exit polls when the polls close.

What happens after the elections?

A coalition must reach 61 seats to form the government. Due to Israel's electoral system, it would be unusual for a single party to reach that number.

Each elected party tells Israel's President Reuven Rivlin who they want to form a government and the president gives them the first opportunity to build a coalition.

They will have 28 days to form a coalition government, with a 14-day extension if given permission by the president.


Watch: What have been the key issues?

Security is at the top of the agenda for most Israelis in this election, while the issue of Palestinian statehood has hardly featured, in a departure from past elections.

Tim Marshall explains:


How Israel elects the Knesset

Israeli members of parliament are elected using a system called closed-list proportional representation, using a single nation-wide constituency.

Each voter selects a party, which puts forward a list of candidates with an order of preference. The number of seats a party receives is proportional to the percentage of votes it receives.

Parties must receive at least 3.25 per cent of the vote to be represented. If a party does not receive sufficient votes to pass the threshold, any surplus votes will be passed to another party, according to pre-arranged agreements. If there are no agreements, the votes will be passed to the next most popular party.

Citizens over the age of 18 can vote in the elections, but you have to be over 21 to stand.


Israel's American allies hand Netanyahu election capital

In a move that appeared to hand Mr Netanyahu significant credit among Israeli nationalists, the US passed a motion recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights last month.

The move, championed by US President Donald Trump was condemned by countries across the Middle East and the UN, who said it contravened international law.

It was the latest in a long line of US actions that sought to delegitimise Palestinian statehood and strengthen Mr Netanyahu's political standing.

These include:


Special Report: The Occupation of Jerusalem

How has Jerusalem changed since the US moved its embassy? What is Jordan's role in keeping the delicate balance in the ancient city?  And what is it like for people actually living in Jerusalem? These are the questions, and more, we answer in our deep dive into Jerusalem, the city fundamental in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

How Israel is working to remove Palestinians from Jerusalem: Shifting city boundaries, changing street signs,  erasing Arabic words and diminishing public services ... this is how Israel is making life harder for Palestinians living in Jerusalem, hoping they will decide life is better on the outside.

The Palestinian families affected by daily life under occupation in East Jerusalem: There is no one family who can capture all of the complexities, problems, pleasures and dramas of life for Palestinians living in Jerusalem. So we spoke with three Palestinian families living only kilometres apart for a window into the daily ways politics shape everyday life here.

Palestinian Yehiya Derbas (L) with his family during a Saturday afternoon lunch at his home in  Issawiyah, a hardened and impoverished east Jerusalem neighborhood on March 9,2019.The day the Trump administration announced last December that it would be moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, Yehiya DerbasÕ life changed forever.  Derbas, then a slight 16-year-old, joined in Palestinian protests against the move. And like many young men before and after him, Derbas told The National that Israeli forces shot him and later imprisoned him for one year on charges related to the dayÕs violence.  

Upon his release in early February, now marked as an ex-con, Derbas returned to a city that in most ways has remained the same day-to-day Ñ but that intangibly has significantly changed. (Photo by Heidi Levine For The National).
Palestinian Yehiya Derbas with his family during a Saturday afternoon lunch at his home in Isawiyah, a hardened and impoverished East Jerusalem neighbourhood. Heidi Levine for The National

How life in Jerusalem has changed since Donald Trump's embassy move: The day the Trump administration announced it was moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem hundreds of people's lives, and the city, changed forever.

Why Palestinians believe Israel is shifting the status quo in Jerusalem: Inside crumbling homes in East Jerusalem, Palestinians feel Israel's creeping influence.

Jalal Barham (right) as he leaves the Arab Orthodox Cultural Center in the West Bank city of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem on January 18,2019 .When he heard the latest news about the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem secretly selling and leasing land to Israelis, he said first he felt angry. And then he felt shame.

ÒI feel shame that our leadership is working like an agent to sell buildings and land,Ó said Barham, 65, who is a member of the Follow-up Committee of the Arab Orthodox High Council in Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. ÒThey made it like just a business.Ó
Jalal Barham as he leaves the Arab Orthodox Cultural Center in the West Bank city of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem. Heidi Levine

Betrayal in the Holy Land: The Greek Orthodox Church is secretly selling Jerusalem property to Israel: The largest Church in Israel and the Palestinian Territories has been selling off land to Israel, earning the church more than $100 million, but Palestinian parishioners are not benefiting.

Why Jordan is vital to the protection of the delicate balance in Jerusalem: Jordan is both everywhere and nowhere in Jerusalem.

For many Palestinians, the neighbouring country is their guarantor, providing security when they have nowhere else to go, but for others, there is frustration that not enough is being done.