March 2 (UPI) — The parties of Benjamin Netanyahu and political rival Benny Gantz squared off again Monday for the third time in less than a year in Israeli elections that hope to break a stalemate that’s frozen political progress.
Polls opened across Israel on Monday, for the first time since a vote last September did not lead to a unity government.
Netanyahu, already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has a corruption trial looming on March 17. He is still popular enough to have easily vanquished an internal challenge earlier and still has the ear of powerful foreign allies like U.S. President Donald Trump.
Polling prior to Monday’s election showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party had slightly increased its lead, but not enough to break a stalemate that has stymied the government for almost a year. An Arab-majority group has now grown to Israel’s third-largest party and is expected to win more seats.
Along with the 10,631 polling stations open for voters, 14 stations were created for the 5,630 quarantined because of the coronavirus. More than 68 percent of voters turned out in the first election last April and nearly 70 percent for the race in September.
Gantz said he will accept the results of this election but added that he expects Netanyahu’s allies to support his Blue and White Party once the prime minister’s trial starts in a few weeks.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Monday he felt “deep shame” that divisions among Israel’s politicians have become so bad that they failed to form a coalition government over the past two national elections.
“I have an uneasy feeling, shame even,” Rivlin said. “We just don’t deserve this. We don’t deserve another awful and grubby election campaign like the one that ends today and we don’t deserve this never-ending instability.”