Jerusalem Israel’s election has suddenly become too close to call, though hard-liners are expected to have a clear edge in the horse trading that is sure to follow today’s vote.
The fractious coalition government likely to emerge could complicate efforts to create a Palestinian state and pose big challenges for President Barack Obama, who has made achieving Middle East peace a top priority.
The race pits former Prime Minister Benjamin Netan-yahu, who opposes giving up land in the name of peace, against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a centrist who hopes to become the country’s first female leader in nearly 40 years.
For months, opinion polls have predicted a decisive victory by Netanyahu’s Likud Party. But new polls released over the weekend showed Livni’s Kadima Party closing the gap. Neither is expected to get more than 30 seats in the 120-seat parliament, however, meaning the winner will have to form a coalition with smaller parties.
Netanyahu seems to be in a far better position, since his natural allies in the nationalist right wing of Israeli politics are all polling well. In particular, Netanyahu’s former protege, Avigdor Lieberman, appears poised to make huge gains on a platform that calls for Israeli Arabs to swear loyalty to the state or lose citizenship.
While Livni could still eke out a victory, it appears mathematically impossible for her to form a coalition without bringing in Lieberman or some other hard-line party. That would hinder her ability to pursue a peace agreement with the Palestinians, as she has promised to do.
Still, polls have often been inaccurate in Israel. This time the pollsters’ task is even more difficult, because turnout is expected to be low and a plethora of small parties could upset the whole equation.