Benjamin Netanyahu Poised To Win as Israel Starts To Vote in Election

Likud Coalition May Lose Seats as Far Right Wing Gains

Early and Often: Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot as Israel goes to the polls in an election he is expected to win.
getty images
Early and Often: Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot as Israel goes to the polls in an election he is expected to win.

By Reuters

Published January 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Israelis voted on Tuesday in an election that is expected to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a third term in office, pushing the Jewish state further to the right, away from peace with the Palestinians and towards a showdown with Iran.

However, Netanyahu’s own Likud party, running alongside the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group, looks set to have fewer seats than in the previous parliament, with opinion polls showing a surge in support for the far-right Jewish Home party.

Political sources said Netanyahu, concerned by his apparent fall in popularity, might approach centre-left parties after the vote in an effort to broaden his coalition and present a more moderate face to Washington and other concerned allies.

“We want Israel to succeed, we vote Likud-Beitenu … The bigger it is, the more Israel will succeed,” Netanyahu said after casting his ballot alongside his wife and two sons.

Some 5.66 million Israelis are eligible to vote, with polling stations closing at 10 p.m. (2000 GMT). Full results are due by Wednesday morning, opening the way for coalition talks that could take several weeks.

The lacklustre election campaign failed to focus on any single issue and with a Netanyahu victory predicted by every opinion poll, the two main political blocs seemed to spend more time on internal feuding than confronting each other.

“There is a king sitting on the throne in Israel and I wanted to dethrone him, but it looks like that won’t happen,” said Yehudit Shimshi, a retired teacher voting in central Israel, on a bright, hot mid-winter morning.

No Israeli party has ever secured an absolute majority, meaning that Netanyahu, who says that dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions is his top priority, will have to bring various allies onboard to control the 120-seat Knesset.

The former commando has traditionally looked to religious, conservative parties for backing and is widely expected to seek out the surprise star of the campaign, self-made millionaire Naftali Bennett who heads the Jewish Home party.

Bennett has ruled out any peace pact with the Palestinians and calls for the annexation of much of the occupied West Bank.

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.

“TRENDY PARTIES”

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.

U.S.-brokered talks collapsed just a month after they started in 2010 following a row over settlement building, and have laid in ruins ever since. Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for the failure and says his door remains open to discussions.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he won’t return to the table unless there is a halt to settlement construction.

That looks unlikely, with Netanyahu approving some 11,000 settler homes in December alone, causing further strains to his already notoriously difficult relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, who was sworn in for a second term on Monday.

IRAN THREAT

Tuesday’s vote is the first in Israel since Arab uprisings swept the region two years ago, reshaping the Middle East.

Netanyahu has said the turbulence - which has brought Islamist governments to power in several countries long ruled by secularist autocrats, including neighbouring Egypt - shows the importance of strengthening national security.

If he wins on Tuesday, he will seek to put Iran back to the top of the global agenda. Netanyahu has said he will not let Tehran enrich enough uranium to make a single nuclear bomb - a threshold Israeli experts say could arrive as early as mid-2013.

Iran denies it is planning to build the bomb, and says Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, is the biggest threat to the region.

The issue has barely registered during the election campaign, with a poll in Haaretz newspaper on Friday saying 47 percent of Israelis thought social and economic issues were the most pressing concern, against just 10 percent who cited Iran.

One of the first problems to face the next government, which is unlikely to take power before the middle of next month at the earliest, is the stuttering economy.

Data last week showed the budget deficit rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, double the original estimate, meaning spending cuts and tax hikes look certain.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.