Voting is underway in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a tight race for re-election. Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud Party lagging slightly behind the Zionist Union Coalition, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Herzog. Netanyahu has emphasized his right-wing positions in recent days, visiting the Har Homa settlement in occupied East Jerusalem and vowing to ramp up settlement construction, deemed illegal under international law. In an interview with a website owned by U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, one of his leading backers, Netanyahu unequivocally vowed never to allow a Palestinian state, if he is re-elected.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I think that whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel. This is the genuine reality that was created here in the past few years. Those who who do not understand that bury their heads in the sand. The left-wing parties do it, bury their heads in the sand, time and again.”
The Obama administration has pressed for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians which includes a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s closest rival, Yitzhak Herzog, has sought to capitalize on public frustration with Netanyahu’s hardline policies.
Yitzhak Herzog: “The public is genuinely frustrated. The public want a change, the public ask for a change, and the public aspire for hope and is revolted by and fed up with the status quo. I am the only one who can change the country’s situation. I am the only one who can get a mandate from the president (to form a government). To get a mandate from the president, I need to lead a clear majority over the Likud and Netanyahu.”
Running third place in Israeli polls is the Joint List, a coalition of four Arab parties which could be decisive in forming a new coalition that would unseat Netanyahu.