On Israel vote eve, Netanyahu fends off surge to his right

Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:10pm EST
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By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israelis vote on Tuesday for the first time since revolutions convulsed their Arab neighbors, in an election expected to push the Jewish state even further to the right, away from peace with Palestinians and towards greater confrontation with Iran.

After a lackluster campaign, the election could be on course to give Israel the most hardline government in its history, deepening its international isolation and potentially putting strains on its relations with Washington.

Polls - though notoriously inaccurate in the past - predict right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be re-elected, but with a parliamentary majority forecast to shrink, in part because of the rise of a far-right group even more uncompromising than his own ultranationalist allies.

The election finds Israel largely focusing inward at a time when its region is changing faster than ever.

The Arab revolts of the past two years have barely figured in the campaign, and even the center-left Labour Party, once pioneers of talks with the Palestinians, has avoided focusing on a peace process in deep freeze since 2010.

Netanyahu made an election-eve appeal on Monday to wavering supporters to "come home", showing concern over the forecast far-right surge that could see millionaire Naftali Bennett's upstart Jewish Home party place third.

At a final campaign appearance in Jerusalem, Netanyahu voiced confidence his traditional backers would not abandon him, and repeated his stump pledges to keep Israel safe and build Jewish settlements over international opposition.

"I have no doubt that many, many people will decide at the last minute to come home to Likud-Yisrael Beitenu," he said.   Continued...

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) stands with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (R) and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem January 21, 2013. Netanyahu made an election eve appeal to wavering supporters to "come home", showing concern over a forecast far-right surge that would keep him in power but weaken him politically. REUTERS/Baz Ratner