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His youthful dynamism has struck a chord amongst Israelis, most of whom no longer believe in the possibility of a Palestinian deal, and has eroded Netanyahu’s support base.
The Likud has also shifted further right in recent months, with hardline candidates who reject the so-called two-state solution, dominating the top of the party list.
Surveys suggest Bennett may take up to 14 seats, many at the expense of Likud-Beitenu, which was projected to win 32 in the last round of opinion polls published on Friday – 10 less than the two parties won in 2009 when they ran separate lists.
Acknowledging the threat, Netanyahu’s son Yair urged young Israelis not to abandon the old, established Likud.
“Even if there are more trendy parties, there is one party that has a proven record,” he said on Tuesday.
Amongst the new parties standing for the first time in an election were Yesh Atid (There is a Future), a centrist group led by former television host Yair Lapid, seen winning 13 seats.
“All our lives we voted Likud, but today we voted for Lapid because we want a different coalition,” said Ahuva Heled, 55, a retired teacher voting with her husband north of Tel Aviv.
Lapid has not ruled out joining a Netanyahu cabinet, but is pushing hard for ultra-Orthodox Jews to do military service – a demand fiercely rejected by some allies of the prime minister.
Israel’s main opposition party, Labour, which is seen capturing up to 17 seats, has already ruled out a repeat of 2009, when it initially hooked up with Netanyahu, promising to promote peace negotiations with the Palestinians.