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Final Polls Show Close Race in Israeli Elections

  • Robert Berger

Final polls show a tight race ahead of Israeli elections next week.

Israel's front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu has blown a big lead, and final polls show him barely ahead of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Polls give Mr. Netanyahu's hawkish Likud party 26 or 27 seats in the 120-member Knesset or parliament, only two seats more than Livni's moderate Kadima party.

Mr. Netanyahu, a former prime minister, admits that the upcoming election may be too close to call.

"I think there are good chances that we will be elected, but nothing is guaranteed, we still have hard work before us," he said.

The elections will have a major impact on the peace process. As chief negotiator, Livni has offered the Palestinians an independent state in about 93 percent of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu opposes that and prefers a much more cautious approach to peace talks.

But Mr. Netanyahu is losing votes to parliamentarian Avigdor Lieberman, whose nationalist Israel Beitenu party is finding increasing appeal on the Israeli right.

"I think that Lieberman is the kingmaker in this next election," said pollster Mitchell Barak. "He seems to be getting a surge in the polls. And he's going to be at a critical point there deciding whose going to form the next government."

Lieberman takes a harder line than Mr. Netanyahu on the Palestinians and has lambasted Israel's Arab citizens, demanding that they sign an oath of loyalty. That has struck a chord with many Jews who are fed up with Israeli Arab support for the Palestinians.

Talia Sasson of the left-wing Meretz party says Lieberman is dangerous.

"We don't like Lieberman at all; we think that he's a racist and fascist," said Sasson.

But with polls showing Lieberman's party becoming the third largest in parliament with about 19 seats, he will probably be a major player in the next coalition government.

Polls show the right-wing bloc winning a clear majority in the Knesset with 66 seats compared to 54 for the dovish left. A right-wing government would oppose Israeli concessions in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
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