First Published: 2013-01-22

 

Israel rushes towards far right

 

Elections are likely to return Netanyahu as head of rightwing coalition that will face challenges of peacemaking, Iran's nuclear programme.

 

Middle East Online

By Fanny Carrier – JERUSALEM

Easy win for Likud-Beitenu list expected

Israelis voted Tuesday in elections likely to return Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as head of a rightwing coalition that will face the challenges of peacemaking with the Palestinians and Iran's nuclear programme.

Queues were short, or nonexistent, in the early hours of voting, after polling stations opened at 0500 GMT, with many Israelis taking advantage of an election day public holiday to sleep in.

Netanyahu, casting his ballot with his wife Sara and their two sons in the upscale Rehavia neighbourhood of Jerusalem, called on voters to back the joint list of his rightwing Likud party and the secular nationalist faction of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

"Likud-Beitenu represents all the people. The stronger Likud-Beitenu is, the easier it will be to lead Israel successfully," he said.

Polling ahead of the vote has consistently projected an easy win for the Likud-Beitenu list.

The prime minister is expected to preside over a sharply rightwing government that is considered less likely to achieve a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians and could increase Israel's diplomatic isolation.

The government will face key diplomatic and foreign policy questions, including Iran's nuclear programme, which much of the world believes masks a weapons drive, and a Middle East profoundly changed by the Arab uprisings.

But domestic challenges will be no less pressing, with a major budget crisis and austerity cuts on the horizon, even as Israelis express widespread discontent over spiraling prices.

The joint Likud-Beitenu list may be confident of leading those competing for the Knesset's 120 seats, but polls show that the two parties will lose around 10 of their current seats, down to around 32.

The centre-left Labour party is projected to trail in second place with around 17 seats. Its chief, Shelly Yachimovich, is expected to become leader of the opposition after pledging she would not join a Netanyahu government.

The campaign's big surprise has been Naftali Bennett, the young, charismatic new leader of the hardline national religious Jewish Home. He took over the party in November and has quickly become a rising star among settlers.

The party, which firmly opposes a Palestinian state and won just three seats in 2009, is on course to win 15, making it the third faction in parliament and a likely partner in any future coalition government.

Bennett's success has rattled Netanyahu, pundits say, with the premier pushing to stem the defection of voters to Jewish Home by burnishing his own credentials as a defender of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories.

In the German Colony neighbourhood of Jerusalem, a teacher who declined to give her name said she was planning to back Bennet.

"He is strong, and he is religious but not extreme. Young families... can relate to him. We are so tired of Netanyahu," the 32-year-old said.

Elsewhere in Jerusalem, 55-year-old Joe Jamal, casting his ballot in the Katamon neighbourhood, said he foresaw little shift in the political landscape.

"I don't expect much change. I'm still hoping for an alternative, a move to the centre, for which I'm voting," Jamal, a doctor, said.

According to final polls, the rightwing-religious bloc will take between 61 and 67 seats, compared with 53 to 57 for the centre-left and Arab parties.

Some 5.65 million Israelis are eligible to vote, including Arab citizens of Israel, who are expected to stay away from the polls in record numbers.

Voters will be able to cast ballots at 10,132 polling stations, which are open for 15 hours, with television exit polls due to be broadcast immediately after they close at 2000 GMT.

 

IS jihadists move closer than ever to central Damascus

A year on, recapture of Yazidi hub remains a distant prospect

EU leaders call for action to defend migrants’ 'dignity'

Palmyra temple appears ‘largely intact’ after ISIS blast

Over 10,000 Icelanders ready to welcome Syrians

Libya loyalist forces battle IS jihadists in Benghazi

South Sudan peace deal in jeopardy

Pressure builds on Europe as refugee crisis exposes splits

Israel confirms jail for Druze ex-MP over visit to Syria

Egypt much delayed elections to start on October 17

Turkey to offer cash rewards for tips on ‘terrorists’

Yemen children's hospital on the verge of shutting down

In gruesome video, ISIS shows burning alive of Iraq Shiite fighters

Four years after famine, situation in Somalia remains alarming

IS blows up parts of famed Palmyra temple

Deadly fire at housing complex of Aramco in Saudi Arabia

In historic first, Saudi Arabia allows women to run in local elections

Israel repels protesters with tear gas at separation barrier in West Bank

ISIS brutality in Syria: Over 90 people executed in one month

Bashir to visit China despite international arrest warrant

Egypt summons British envoy in row over Al-Jazeera trial

Yemen war seeks to stop ‘Iran expansion’ in Arab region

Lebanon protesters to government: Meet our demands of face escalation

Calls for action on refugee crisis mount after Austrian tragedy

Kuwait lawmaker describes Iran as 'true enemy' of Gulf Arabs

Two French journalists charged with bid to blackmail Morocco King

Algeria detains former intelligence chief

Kurdish forces free seven Iraq villages from clasps of ISIS

Toll in Libya shipwreck tragedy rises to 111

Egypt court hands Al-Jazeera reporters three years in prison

UN to host new round of Libya peace talks next week

US names ‘First Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs’

Mounting death toll of security forces triggers questions in Turkey

Deadly terrorist blast rocks Karanah suburb in Bahrain

Brief truce between Syria regime and rebels collapses

Al-Qaeda lashes 10 in Yemen for blasphemy, alcohol

Turkey PM to form cabinet ahead of November polls

Iraq PM orders forces to prepare to open Green Zone

71 'Syrians' dead in Austria truck tragedy

UN conference on plight of minorities persecuted by IS

Spain judge accuses suspect of running IS Morocco network

Yemen army recruits 4,800 southern fighters

Israel to use agriculture to win friends in Africa

Syrian refugees desert Middle East for Europe

At least 76 die as boat sinks off Libya