Polls open in Israel, Netanyahu's victory expected

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
[FILE PHOTO: IsraelinUSA/Flickr/CC BY 2.0] 

Jerusalem: Voting is under way in Israel's general elections.

Opinion polls suggest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will emerge once again in the strongest position, but the balance among his coalition partners will likely be significantly shifted.

Netanyahu cast his ballot in Jerusalem shortly after polling stations opened.

"We want Israel to succeed, [so] we vote Likud-Beitenu. That's why. The bigger [Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu] is, the more Israel will succeed, and my entire family concurs with me completely," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said he hoped for a "flood of votes" for the right-wing alliance between his Likud Party and secular nationalists Yisrael Beiteinu.

Polls show that while Likud-Beitenu is expected to retain a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, the two parties are likely to lose some 10 seats. That's largely due to the appearance of a newcomer on Israel's political scene.

The ultranationalist Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett has been the surprise of the campaign so far.
The 40-year-old Bennett has been described as the new "rock star" of Israeli politics, targeting the youth vote and voters from the former Soviet Union.

Bennett also spoke to reporters after casting his ballot in Raanana.

"Our goal is to unite all of the state of Israel -- the religious, the nonreligious, the secular, the ultrareligious, the Arabs, the Jews -- everyone together, to unite and do some good things for this great nation," Bennett said.

Jewish Home is predicted to win only some 15 seats in the Knesset but that is a significant increase from the three seats the party won in 2009.

Bennett's rise could complicate the prospects for progress in relations with the Palestinians.

He has been cheered on the campaign trail when telling supporters he will do everything he can to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state "within the Land of Israel," as he puts it.

Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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