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

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
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