Netanyahu Third Term 'Will Threaten Palestinian Peace Deal -- and Future of Israel'

Article excerpt

Byline: Martin Bentham in Jerusalem

PRIME minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to win a third term as Israel went to the polls today, despite opposition warnings that a new lurch to the Right will threaten the country's future.

General election opinion pollsters were predicting Mr Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu party would win most seats, allowing him to form a new ruling coalition.

His most likely partners include the nationalist Jewish Home party led by former commando Naftali Bennett -- who rejects the idea of a separate Palestinian state -- and Right-wing religious parties equally opposed to compromise.

Centrist parties and Labour, which is expected to gain the second-highest number of seats, warned that despite pessimism about the prospects of a Palestinian peace deal, a new hardline administration will leave the Jewish state dangerously isolated in the world and imperil its long-term viability.

A lacklustre campaign has focused on personalities rather than domestic issues such as the cost of housing and the economy, or the wider problems of the Palestinian peace process and how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Netanyahu, in power since 2009, has emphasised his credentials as a strong leader. He drove home the message in a final campaign speech in Jerusalem in which he predicted a surge of late support and asked voters: "Decide for whom you are going to vote -- for a divided and weak Israel, or for a united and strong Israel and a large governing party?" Polls suggest his party will gain only 32 of the 120 Knesset seats. This will force him to rely on potential Rightwing allies to secure his majority -- including rising star Mr Bennett, whose party is predicted to win 14 seats -- making it less likely that concessions will be made on settlement building, including on the E1 site which will cut off the Palestinian West Bank from Jerusalem.

It will also diminish the prospects of a two-state peace deal with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. …

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