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What To Know About Israel's Elections


There is a very important election taking place in Israel this week, and Israelis are faced with a central question - whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should continue to lead the country after a decade in power. He's facing corruption allegations, but there is a good chance he'll still get re-elected. And in these final days of the campaign, he has pledged a dramatic policy change that has profound implications. He says he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which could make it almost impossible to create a viable independent Palestinian state. NPR's Daniel Estrin has more from Jerusalem.


DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Netanyahu greeted a crowd of supporters this weekend with a warning.



ESTRIN: "The right-wing government is in danger," he said. "If I don't win, a left-wing government will come to power." Netanyahu is fighting his toughest race yet. The police have recommended corruption charges against Netanyahu for backroom dealings with businessmen. An indictment could come within months. And Netanyahu is facing a formidable challenger, former military chief of staff Benny Gantz. He wants to replace Netanyahu after 10 years in power.


BENNY GANTZ: I think Benjamin Netanyahu have done a lot for the country, but as we say, enough is enough.


ESTRIN: Gantz is new to politics, but he's teamed up with other former military generals to compete with Netanyahu's reputation as Mr. Security. Gantz's Blue and White Party is named after the colors of the Israeli flag, and he's run on a message of unifying the country. Gantz accuses Netanyahu of inciting against Israel's Palestinian-Arab citizens and embracing extremists by forging a political alliance with the far-right Jewish Power Party. Gantz has also suggested Netanyahu was behind a propaganda network of fake Twitter accounts, though Israel's election commissioner found no evidence of that. For his part, Netanyahu has waged an aggressive campaign on social media.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: This video on Netanyahu's Facebook page shows a split screen. On one side are Gantz and his political partner, a TV anchorman turned politician. They're branded as dangerous and inexperienced. On the other side of the screen, Netanyahu and President Trump. Netanyahu has been campaigning on his close ties with Trump. Netanyahu's party also put out a video it later apologized for - showing a military graveyard and claiming Gantz would lead a reckless left-wing government and cause hundreds of deaths. Netanyahu's campaign has also portrayed Gantz as mentally unstable, and Netanyahu calls the corruption allegations against him a left-wing media witch hunt. Israeli political analyst Reuven Hazan.

REUVEN HAZAN: Netanyahu will stop at nothing, and I would not want to oppose him because he is very, very good at campaigning.

ESTRIN: Israeli political journalist Tal Shalev summed up the campaign in a panel of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

TAL SHALEV: For the first time, one could say there was a real alternative for Netanyahu, but the Blue and White Party didn't hurt Netanyahu.

ESTRIN: And neither did the corruption allegations against him, she says. Polls show Gantz hasn't succeeded in wooing enough voters away from Netanyahu's traditional allies, right-wing parties, which are predicted to win a slight majority of the votes. Netanyahu could then form a government with those right-wing parties. Many of them are pushing for Israel to annex Jewish settlements in lands Palestinians demand for their own state. In a TV interview Saturday night, Netanyahu pledged he would do so if he wins.


NETANYAHU: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: He said, "will we go to the next phase? The answer is yes. We will go to the next phase to extend Israeli sovereignty." The race is close. Some right-wing parties could choose an alliance with Gantz, crowning him prime minister. Polls show there are still many undecided voters, like Sarit Tepper. She doesn't want to vote for Netanyahu but doesn't know who'd be better.

SARIT TEPPER: I have nothing to compare to, so it's very difficult to say. It's a difficult country. No one else ever tried to be his place for a while now. People - other people try, but no one succeeded.

ESTRIN: The vote is on Tuesday. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.