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Israelis vote, Netanyahu seeks third term

 Likud activists hang posters of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the wall of Jerusalem's old city Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013.  Hebrew reads, ...

Mideast Israel

Likud activists hang posters of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the wall of Jerusalem's old city Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. Hebrew reads, ...

Israelis vote today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably headed for a third term and a dilemma whether to expand West Bank settlements or choose allies backing new peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu ticket has been the clear favorite in all pre-election polls, forecast to win between 32 and 37 seats in the 120-member Knesset. In any scenario, he will have to patch together a group of smaller parties to gain a parliamentary majority.
The coalition’s makeup may determine outcomes ranging from managing inflation to whether Israel bombs Iran. Parties in the current coalition, including the ascendant Jewish Home, are gaining support by opposing talks aimed at agreement on a Palestinian state. That’s Netanyahu’s stated policy and reviving the process is a U.S. priority. Alternative partners on the center-left have objected to parts of the premier’s economic plan, including spending cuts to slash the budget deficit.
“This election will show how strong Netanyahu’s own base is, and what price he needs to pay for a coalition that gives him political flexibility.” said Peter Medding, a Hebrew University political scientist.
Netanyahu, 63, would also need support from his Cabinet for any decision on bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, an Israeli threat that has led to tensions with President Barack Obama. Netanyahu says it may be necessary to stop Iran gaining atomic weapons that would endanger Israel. He regularly says the world should be more worried about an Iranian bomb than Israeli settlements.
Polls show the Labor Party led by Shelly Yachimovich coming second with as many as 18 seats. Netanyahu may avoid inviting her into a coalition because of the party’s emphasis during the campaign on increased social spending.
“Labor is not supportive of fiscal restraint,” said Jonathan Katz, a Jerusalem-based economist for HSBC Holdings Plc.
Netanyahu says the deficit needs to be narrowed to 3 percent of economic output this year from 4.2 percent in 2012, requiring 14 billion shekels ($3.7 billion) in spending cuts. He called the election a year ahead of schedule after failing to get coalition partners to agree on the measures.
Another possibility to anchor the coalition is the Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, which wants to expand settlement construction. It’s set to be the campaign’s biggest winner, with polls projecting as many as 16 seats. The ultra- Orthodox Shas party, which also wants to increase social spending, may get as many as 11 seats and try to retain its place in the coalition.
The most vocal advocate for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians that could join the Cabinet is the Hatenuah party led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is likely to win six to eight seats, according to polls.

Updated : 2021-06-22 03:28 GMT+08:00