Netanyahu has edge if Israel holds early vote (AP) Associated Press) By DAN PERRY JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 04/30/12 12:20 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM Israel was gripped by election fever Monday, with new
ballotting expected as early as the summer and polls suggesting Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands a good chance of re-election
largely because of a divided opposition.
Israeli elections generally come down to a race between a
conservative bloc led by Netanyahu´s Likud Party and backed by
religious parties against a more dovish bloc. The story of this
election could turn out to be the divisions in the opposition center-
left bloc, where three different parties two of them led by former
journalists plausibly contend for the top position.
"The left doesn´t have a leader that´s the problem," said political
analyst Hanan Kristal. "They don´t have anyone that can go up
The prime minister unleashed the furor by leaking to media on Sunday
that he was considering early elections even though his term can last
through late 2013. It quickly became apparent that his hand is being
forced by serious disagreements between secular and religious
coalition partners over the proposed drafting of Jewish seminary
The official side of the process was then suspended Monday morning by
the death of Netanyahu´s 102-year-old father Ben-Zion, ushering in a
weeklong mourning period for the premier.
Yet the looming election dominated the national discussion, the
proceedings lent urgency by a sense that decision time is nearing on
a panoply of major issues from whether to attack Iran´s nuclear
program and peace with the Palestinians to the corrosive internal
debate over the role of religion in the Jewish state.
"The political system is irreversibly boiling over on many topics ...
so all the big issues are on our doorstep for the election," said
Yitzhak Herzog, one of the leaders of the opposition Labor Party.
The center-left had long been led by Labor. But in the past two
elections, the Kadima Party founded in 2005 by former premier Ariel
Sharon achieved primacy. Now both claim the bloc leadership, and a
third party headed by TV anchor Yair Lapid also appears to be a
A poll published Monday by the Dahaf institute showed the two blocs
about evenly matched with the right winning 61 out of 120 Knesset
seats, substantially less than the majority it won in 2009. The poll
of 500 people had a four-seat margin of error.
But whereas Likud dominated the right with 30 seats, the picture on
the left was far more complex: Labor came out on top with 18, while
Kadima, the current top party in the bloc, had 11 tied with Lapid´s
Yesh Atid (There is a Future), which currently exists mainly on paper.
The poll was similar to other recent surveys. It also showed results
changing based on different scenarios of politicians combining forces.
Kristal, the analyst, said that Shelly Yachomovich, the former radio
newswoman who won Labor´s leadership primary several months ago, is
not seen by most of the public as a credible candidate for prime
minister. Kadima´s Shaul Mofaz, a former military chief and defense
minister, is much more in the traditional mold of Israeli leaders
yet his party seems to be falling behind.
"Whoever doesn´t want a right-wing prime minister must vote for Shaul
Mofaz," Tsachi Hanegbi, a top Kadima figure, told Israel Radio.
Netanyahu is expected to consult with coalition partners after the
mourning period ends, next week. Several religious lawmakers said
Monday that the religious parties in his coalition would prefer
elections in October. Others have called for the balloting to be held
as early as August to minimize the period of uncertainty.
The political developments followed an unusual episode in which
Netanyahu came under blistering attack over the weekend from Yuval
Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency. Diskin
criticized Netanyahu´s threats to attack Iran and inactivity on the
Palestinian front, saying he had "no faith" in the country´s
Adding to Netanyahu´s headaches are two Supreme Court decisions that
threaten his coalition.
In one, the court ordered the government to dismantle by July 15 an
illegal West Bank settlement outpost a move that faces tough
opposition from hard-line coalition allies.
Netanyahu also faces a Supreme Court-ordered Aug. 1 deadline to scrap
draft exemptions for tens of thousands of religious seminary
students a prospect certain to spark strenuous opposition from the
religious parties on which his majority depends. If he tries to
extend the exemptions, trouble looms with his powerful foreign
minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the secular Yisrael Beitenu party.
That situation a legal and political cul-de-sac has led some to
predict that even if Netanyahu´s bloc retains its majority he will
prefer to establish a centrist coalition with some of the more dovish
parties over a renewed alliance with the religious groups. --- Ian
Deitch contributed to this report. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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