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Israel elections: Voters prepare to go to polls

By The Citizen
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Israelis are preparing to go to the polls in a general election which looks set to return Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to office.

Campaigning in Jerusalem, Mr Netanyahu said the choice was between parties which would lead to “a divided and weak Israel or… united and strong Israel”.

Analysts say Mr Netanyahu is likely to form a new right-wing coalition.

Unlike previous elections the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has not been high on most parties’ campaign agendas.

Social and economic issues have emerged as key concerns among voters in the run-up to the polls.

According to final opinion polls, Mr Netanyahu’s joint Likud-Yisrael Beitenu party list will win about 32 seats – down from the previous election but enough to form a majority with right-wing parties.

A right-wing bloc is expected to give Mr Netanyahu support of about 63 seats in the 120-member Knesset (parliament).

Mr Netanyahu called early elections last October after his coalition failed to agree the annual budget. His joint party ticket has consistently led opinion polls, but recently lost support to a new ultra-nationalist party, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home).

Speaking at his final campaign appearance, Mr Netanyahu said he was confident of a late surge in support.

“I have no doubt that many, many people will decide at the last minute come home to Likud-Yisrael Beitenu.

“I have a good feeling. And at the last minute, I appeal to each and every citizen going to the ballot box: Decide for whom you are going to vote – for a divided and weak Israel or for a united and strong Israel and a large governing party?”

Likud-Yisrael Beitenu’s right-wing dominance has been challenged by Bayit Yehudi, led by millionaire businessman Naftali Bennett, Mr Netanyahu’s former chief-of-staff.

Mr Bennett has advocated annexing large parts of the occupied West Bank and rejected the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Bayit Yehudi is forecast to take up to 14 seats and become the third-largest party in the Knesset.

The second-biggest party is expected to be Labour, currently languishing on eight seats but predicted to make a comeback with about 18 seats, due in large part to growing anger over the rising cost of living. Labour Party leader Shelly Yachimovich has ruled out joining a coalition led by Mr Netanyahu.

The new secular centrist party Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by TV personality Yair Lapid, and centrist Hatenua, led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, are also expected to do moderately well. Both leaders have said they would consider joining a Netanyahu-led government. (BBC)