News / Middle East

Israelis Vote in General Election

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands near a booth at a polling station in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kochav Ya'acov, north of Jerusalem, January 22, 2013.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands near a booth at a polling station in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kochav Ya'acov, north of Jerusalem, January 22, 2013.
Reuters
 Israelis voted on Tuesday in an election that is expected to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a third term in office, pushing the Jewish state further to the right, away from peace with the Palestinians and towards a showdown with Iran.

However, Netanyahu's own Likud party, running alongside the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group, looks set to have fewer seats than in the previous parliament, with opinion polls showing a surge in support for the far-right Jewish Home party.

Political sources said Netanyahu, concerned by his apparent fall in popularity, might approach centre-left parties after the vote in an effort to broaden his coalition and present a more moderate face to Washington and other concerned allies.

"We want Israel to succeed, we vote Likud-Beitenu... The bigger it is, the more Israel will succeed,'' Netanyahu said after casting his ballot alongside his wife and two sons.

Some 5.66 million Israelis are eligible to vote, with polling stations closing at 10 p.m. (2000 GMT). Full results are due by Wednesday morning, opening the way for coalition talks that could take several weeks.

The lacklustre election campaign failed to focus on any single issue and with a Netanyahu victory predicted by every opinion poll, the two main political blocs seemed to spend more time on internal feuding than confronting each other.

"There is a king sitting on the throne in Israel and I wanted to dethrone him, but it looks like that won't happen,'' said Yehudit Shimshi, a retired teacher voting in central Israel, on a bright, hot mid-winter morning.

No Israeli party has ever secured an absolute majority, meaning that Netanyahu, who says that dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions is his top priority, will have to bring various allies onboard to control the 120-seat Knesset.

The former commando has traditionally looked to religious, conservative parties for backing and is widely expected to seek out the surprise star of the campaign, self-made millionaire Naftali Bennett who heads the Jewish Home party.

Bennett has ruled out any peace pact with the Palestinians and calls for the annexation of much of the occupied West Bank.

His youthful dynamism has struck a chord amongst Israelis, most of whom no longer believe in the possibility of a Palestinian deal, and has eroded Netanyahu's support base.

The Likud has also shifted further right in recent months, with hardline candidates who reject the so-called two-state solution, dominating the top of the party list.

  • Supporters of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party celebrate at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 23, 2013.
  • Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, gestures in front of supporters at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 23, 2013.
  • Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters as he stands at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 23, 2013.
  • Head of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett arrives at his party's headquarters in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, after exit polls were announced, January 22, 2013.
  • Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City after casting his ballot in Israel's parliamentary election January 22, 2013.
  • An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands near a booth at a polling station in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kochav Ya'acov, north of Jerusalem, January 22, 2013.
  • A Druze woman casts her ballot for the parliamentary election at a polling station in the northern Druze-Arab village of Maghar, Israel, January 22, 2013.


Trendy parties

Surveys suggest Bennett may take up to 14 seats, many at the expense of Likud-Beitenu, which was projected to win 32 in the last round of opinion polls published on Friday -- 10 less than the two parties won in 2009 when they ran separate lists.

Acknowledging the threat, Netanyahu's son Yair urged young Israelis not to abandon the old, established Likud.

"Even if there are more trendy parties, there is one party that has a proven record,'' he said on Tuesday.

Among the new parties standing for the first time in an election were Yesh Atid (There is a Future), a centrist group led by former television host Yair Lapid, seen winning 13 seats.

"All our lives we voted Likud, but today we voted for Lapid because we want a different coalition,'' said Ahuva Heled, 55, a retired teacher voting with her husband north of Tel Aviv.

Lapid has not ruled out joining a Netanyahu cabinet, but is pushing hard for ultra-Orthodox Jews to do military service -- a demand fiercely rejected by some allies of the prime minister.

Israel's main opposition party, Labour, which is seen capturing up to 17 seats, has already ruled out a repeat of 2009, when it initially hooked up with Netanyahu, promising to promote peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

U.S.-brokered talks collapsed just a month after they started in 2010 following a row over settlement building, and have laid in ruins ever since. Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for the failure and says his door remains open to discussions.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he won't return to the table unless there is a halt to settlement construction.

That looks unlikely, with Netanyahu approving some 11,000 settler homes in December alone, causing further strains to his already notoriously difficult relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, who was sworn in for a second term on Monday.

Iran threat

Tuesday's vote is the first in Israel since Arab uprisings swept the region two years ago, reshaping the Middle East.

Netanyahu has said the turbulence - which has brough  Islamist governments to power in several countries long ruled by secularist autocrats, including neighbouring Egypt - shows the importance of strengthening national security.

If he wins on Tuesday, he will seek to put Iran back to the top of the global agenda. Netanyahu has said he will not let Tehran enrich enough uranium to make a single nuclear bomb - a threshold Israeli experts say could arrive as early as mid-2013.

Iran denies it is planning to build the bomb, and says
 Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, is the biggest threat to the region.

The issue has barely registered during the election campaign, with a poll in Haaretz newspaper on Friday saying 47 percent of Israelis thought social and economic issues were the most pressing concern, against just 10 percent who cited Iran.

One of the first problems to face the next government, whic  is unlikely to take power before the middle of next month at the earliest, is the stuttering economy.

Data last week showed the budget deficit rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, double the original estimate, meaning spending cuts and tax hikes look certain.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid