Press TV, Jerusalem - People in the Israeli-occupied territories are voting for the second time in less than six months in an election that pits corruption-tainted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party against centrist Benny Gantz of the Blue and White alliance.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and will close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT).
Voters will elect 120 members of the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset. A total of 39 parties are running in the race for the 21st Knesset election. The final results are not expected until early Wednesday.
The stakes are very high for Netanyahu who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.
“I think Bibi needs to go,” said a voter, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “After so many years it is time for a change.”
According to the last polls before the vote, Netanyahu is expected to muster a total of 56 seats, which falls short of the 61-seat threshold he needs to form a coalition administration.
Polls show a race that is too close to call. They predict Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with the Blue and White, with neither securing an outright majority, according to Reuters. However, about 10 parties are likely to win parliament seats.
The election was called after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following the April election, in which Likud and Blue and White were tied, each taking 35 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
Netanyahu portrays Gantz, his toughest opponent in years, as inexperienced and incapable of commanding respect from world leaders such as US President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu’s campaign speeches, billboards and social media videos have heavily featured Trump’s pictures and statements as well as the anti-Palestine actions the US president has taken in support of Netanyahu’s hawkish agenda.
Since taking office in 2016 until now, Trump has been showering Netanyahu with political gifts, including moving Washington’s embassy to the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds, cutting aid to Palestinians, withdrawing the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as well as recognizing the regime’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights.
Gantz accuses Netanyahu of trying to deflect attention from his possible indictment on corruption charges.
Uri Dromi, an Israeli political analyst said, “Netanyahu is desperate to be re-elected and to form a government because this is the only viable way for him not to go to trial.”
Israeli attorney general has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges pending a hearing, expected to be held soon after the election in early October. Many expect the premier to seek immunity if re-elected.
Last week, Netanyahu promised to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected, which many saw as a play meant to attract more votes.
The Israeli prime minister has, over the past months, witnessed a sharp decline in his popularity rate among the Israeli Arab population, after his administration drafted a hugely racist bill declaring Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which was passed by the Knesset in July last year.