— Israelis flocked to polling stations Tuesday for a parliamentary election that is expected to give nationalist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a third term in office.
Israel's electoral commission said 47 percent of voters had cast their ballots by 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday, marking the highest mid-day turnout for an election in 14 years.
Opinion polls leading up to the vote consistently showed that Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, paired with its secular nationalist partner Yisrael Beitenu, were likely to win the most seats for their joint party list, far ahead of the main opposition center-left Labor party.
Some surveys predicted the Jewish Home party, led by young and charismatic entrepreneur Naftali Bennett, will become the third largest faction in parliament. Bennett has said Israel should annex large portions of the West Bank, where the Palestinians hope to build their state.
But Labor, Likud's traditional rival, was also projected to make gains in the voting.
Negotiations to form the next Israeli government have already begun. Analysts say they are likely to be difficult.
Liliane Brunswich, who immigrated to Israel 50 years ago, voted in the well-to-do German Colony neighborhood. She said security was her primary concern.
"I want our government to protect Israel," she said.
Jack Jamal said most Israelis want peace with their Palestinian neighbors but that it is not likely to happen because of the stalled peace talks.
"The main issues I think have been domestic in this particular election," he said. "They're talking about social issues, economic issues, equality of opportunities, equality of obligations. These are the main issues."
Recent immigrant Sylvia Sefor said social issues like education and health were important but the growing budget deficit was a big worry.
"I am also very much concerned about debt," she said. "This country has been good in keeping the economy and budgets and I'm concerned that it shouldn't fall into more debt."
Israel's budget deficit doubled last year to four percent of gross domestic project and was the main reason for the early elections.
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.
In the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, Khalil Salman said that economic issues were important but he hoped the new government would do more for Israeli-Arabs who make up 20 percent of the population.
Salman said the most important thing for the citizens is to obtain their rights, all their rights.
Neighbor Masaab Tawil said he was not going to vote.
"It will stay the same," Tawil said. "The right side will help only the Israeli people and care for them. The Israeli government will not look at us, the Palestinians."
Haifa al-Ayan brought her two young children with her to the polls. She said she would ask Israel's next leader to think of the future.
"I would ask him to think of children in both societies, first of all, and to raise education especially in the Arab society," she said.
Preliminary unofficial results are expected after the polls close late Tuesday night. Official results are to be announced in one week.
VOA's Michael Lipin contributed to this report.