Feb 27, 2020 - World

Israeli election: Netanyahu has momentum despite corruption case

Netanyahu campaigns with a friend behind him. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters Israel's third elections in 10 months with momentum — and with his corruption trial looming just two weeks after the vote.

Why it matters: Israeli politics have been deadlocked for nearly a year as Netanyahu and his centrist rival, Benny Gantz, grapple for power. Monday's vote could provide the breakthrough, or set Israel on course for yet another election.

Where things stand: Netanyahu's Likud party has taken a narrow lead in recent polls, ahead of Gantz's Blue and White, which had previously led most polls since September.

  • Netanyahu's recent trips to Washington, for the unveiling of President Trump's peace plan, and Moscow, to secure the release of an Israeli woman held on drug charges, helped boost the prime minister's image as a foreign policy maestro.
  • At the same time, Netanyahu ended his quest for parliamentary immunity from the three corruption indictments against him. That deprived Gantz of the central issue driving his campaign, as he'd plan to focus his electoral push around Netanyahu's immunity hearings.
  • Netanyahu's approval ratings have also pulled ahead of Gantz's, which slid in recent weeks.

What to watch: Netanyahu is seeking a right-wing majority in the Knesset, Israel's 120-member parliament. With 61 seats, his political bloc could disrupt the legal proceedings or at least allow him to continue as prime minister during the trial.

  • The latest polls project that the right-wing bloc will win one seat more than Gantz's center-left bloc, but that neither will gain a majority.
  • Gantz has ruled out a unity government, saying he won't negotiate with Netanyahu due to the corruption trial.
  • Barring a surprise result, a fourth election is likely.

Either way, on March 17 Netanyahu's battle for survival will move from the ballot box to the courthouse.

Go deeper: Israel cancels academic's lectures for criticizing Netanyahu's Iran policy

Go deeper