He's a great political survivor of the age - but is this the end of Netanyahu?

17 September 2019, 15:04 | Updated: 17 September 2019, 17:01

Israelis return to the polls with the world asking: is this the end of the Netanyahu era?

Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving prime minister. If he wins it will be his fifth term in office.

He is one of the great political survivors of his age, but this time Bibi, as his supporters call him, faces perhaps his biggest test.

This is the second election in six months. He thought he won in April but was deserted in coalition-building efforts by right-wing erstwhile ally Avigdor Lieberman.

The ex-Moldovan bouncer said he would only join Mr Netanyahu in government if the ultra-orthodox parties were not allowed in.

Mr Netanyahu currently can't form a coalition without both of them.

There are also the awkward corruption indictment proceedings that hang over Netanyahu.

That noose is ever tightening, but polls suggest Israelis are relatively unmoved.

Then there is Benny Gantz. An ex-military chief who presents himself as Netanyahu's antithesis with an impeccable record and aura of honesty. But again, voters seem a little underwhelmed.

His Blue and White party's campaign in the last election was a mess and too many Israelis seem to find him just a little bit dull.

And finally, Israeli Arab voters. They appear more ready to overcome their queasiness about voting in national elections, encouraged by their leader in the Knesset.

Their participation could also swing things against Netanyahu.

There are signs he is worried. A promise to annex a third of the West Bank, if he wins, smacks of desperation.

It would outrage international partners and probably put a final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

And we have heard more shrill alarmism from the Israeli prime minister warning about a surge in Arab and left-wing votes.

But these are tactics. Cynical, maybe, but effective in the past in energising his base.

Mr Netanyahu is a past-master at them as well as the kind of post-election horsetrading needed to build a coalition.

He may have finally had his day and that will indeed be the end of an era not just for Israel but the rest of the region.

But no one is prepared to write him off quite yet.