Israeli leader moves toward September elections (AP) Associated Press) By JOSEF FEDERMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 05/06/12 3:15 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday signaled he
wants to hold new elections in September, more than a year ahead of
schedule, setting up a brief campaign that polls suggest will propel
him to another term in office.
A new election could also result in a far different coalition
comprised of centrist parties more open to making concession to the
Palestinians. The situation also adds new uncertainty to the decision
on whether Israel should take military action against Iran´s suspect
Addressing a convention of his Likud Party on Sunday night, Netanyahu
sounded as if he was already on the campaign trail, presenting a list
of accomplishments by his government. He said he had strengthened the
economy, boosted security and put the issue of Iran´s nuclear program
on the international agenda.
Netanyahu also left little doubt about his intentions to call
elections and form a broad coalition.
"I believe we will get a renewed mandate from the citizens of Israel
to continue to lead the country. With God´s help, we will form as
wide a government as possible," he said. "I won´t lend my hand to an
election campaign that will last a year and a half and damage the
state. A short campaign of four months is better. That can return
stability to the political system quickly."
Netanyahu gave no firm date for the vote, despite days of speculation
it would be set for Sept. 4. Officials said Netanyahu, who ended a
one-week mourning period earlier Sunday over the death of his father,
wanted time to consult with other parties before finalizing the date.
The parliament must approve new elections and their date.
Netanyahu´s government, Israel´s most stable in years, was scheduled
to remain in power until late 2013.
But disagreements over budget demands, unsanctioned West Bank
settlement construction and draft exemptions granted to ultra-
religious Jewish men have created rifts inside the governing
Polls suggest Netanyahu´s Likud Party is expected to win at least one-
quarter of parliament´s 120 seats to become the legislature´s largest
faction — putting him in a comfortable position to form a majority
The outgoing government was dominated by religious and nationalist
partners that failed to seriously engage the Palestinians. The
coalition has also been criticized for promoting a series of bills
that appeared to stifle dissent by targeting dovish groups critical
of government policy.
This time, Netanyahu may emerge well positioned to put together a
more moderate coalition.
The three largest center-left parties, Labor, Kadima and Yesh Atid,
together are expected to capture about 40 seats, according to recent
polls. Netanyahu could invite some or all of them to join him. None
of these parties has ruled out a partnership with Likud.
Early poll results rarely reflect the outcome of the voting.
The prospect of an election campaign has also set off a debate over
whether Israel might try to attack Iran´s nuclear facilities.
Israel, like the West, believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons —
a charge that Iran denies — and has repeatedly hinted it may strike
Iran if it concludes that U.S.-led diplomacy and sanctions have
failed. Israeli leaders have signaled time is running out and they
would have to act in the coming months.
Attacking during the campaign would inevitably lead to charges that
Netanyahu is trying to win votes. In 1981, then-Prime Minister
Menachem Begin ordered a surprise airstrike on an unfinished Iraqi
nuclear reactor — just weeks before elections and trailing in the
polls. Begin was narrowly re-elected.
Current polls show about 60 percent of Israelis opposing unilateral
action, so the electoral be benefits of such a strike were doubtful,
also considering the likelihood that it would trigger painful
Netanyahu signaled that his decision would be based solely on
"Of course Iran is trying to dupe the world to win time. But we will
not let go of the pressure until the threat is really removed," he
said. (© 2012 The Associated Press 05/06/12)
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