Israeli polls project a victory by Netanyahu in close race
Hard-liners seen winning majority in parliament
JERUSALEM - The final opinion polls before Israel's election Tuesday show a narrowing race but still project a victory by hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.
Polls in Israeli newspapers gave Likud a slight lead over Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima party in the balloting.
But the polls showed voters clearly preferring hard-line parties, predicting Likud and its conservative allies would hold a solid majority in the 120-seat parliament. Such results would probably spell trouble for the US-led Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Israelis vote for parties, not individual candidates, and no individual party has ever held a majority. Instead, the largest party usually heads a coalition with smaller allies. If yesterday's projections are accurate, Netanyahu, a vocal critic of current peace efforts, would become the next prime minister.
One poll showed Likud winning 27 seats, compared with 25 seats for Kadima. But the poll predicted that Likud and the other nationalist parties could together garner as many as 66 seats, compared with only 54 for centrist and more dovish parties.
The Dialog company poll, published yesterday in the daily Haaretz, surveyed 1,000 people by telephone and had a 3-percentage-point margin of error.
In a separate question, 30 percent of respondents favored Netanyahu as prime minister, compared with 23 percent who preferred Livni.
Similar polls in Israel's two other daily newspapers indicated comparable results. A TNS/Teleseker poll published in the Maariv forecast a narrow Likud victory with 26 parliamentary seats, compared with 23 for Kadima. The survey questioned 1,000 people and had a margin of error of 2 seats.
All the polls asked voters which party they planned to vote for. Under Israeli election law, no more opinion polls can be published before the vote.
Netanyahu and Livni champion very different approaches in peacemaking.
Livni has been the chief negotiator with the Palestinians in a year of peace talks and supports an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu says no agreement is possible in the foreseeable future, and says he will try to jump-start the Palestinian economy while continuing Israel's military occupation indefinitely.
Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and has annexed east Jerusalem, though that move has never been internationally recognized.
The Dialog poll said 15 percent of Israelis were undecided. Candidates across the spectrum spent yesterday on the campaign trail trying to rally support.
Perhaps the most striking poll result indicated that Defense Minister Ehud Barak's moderate Labor Party, which long dominated Israeli politics, has been pushed out of third place by hard-liner Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party.
The Haaretz poll showed Lieberman surging to 18 seats, compared with Labor's 14. That sets Lieberman up as a kingmaker, holding the crucial swing votes that the winner will need to form a government. Lieberman clearly leans toward Netanyahu.
Lieberman has centered his platform on attacking Israel's Arab citizens, demanding that they sign a loyalty oath or lose their right to vote or be elected.