Benjamin Netanyahu victory expected as Israelis go to the polls

  • @AlistairDawber

Polls opened across Israel this morning as voters look set to return one of the country’s most right wing governments ever, despite support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appearing to slip in recent weeks.

Mr Netanyahu, whose Likud-Yisrael Beitenu party looks set to win as many as 32 seats, told voters that they had a choice between a strong or a weak Jewish state at an eve of poll rally last night.

“I have no doubt that many, many people will decide at the last minute to come home to Likud-Yisrael Beitenu. I have a good feeling. And at the last minute, I appeal to each and every citizen going to the ballot box: 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.”

Support for the prime minister’s party has fallen in opinion polls over recent weeks. In the last poll of the campaign published on Friday, Mr Netanyahu’s party led on 32 seats, but 10 down on the number of Knesset members the party currently has.

Much of that support has been soaked up by Naftali Bennett’s right wing Jewish Home party, which has campaigned on economic and social issues, but which also takes a hard line on Palestinian issues. Mr Bennett, a software entrepreneur and Mr Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, is one of very few politicians in Israel that openly rejects the idea of a Palestinian state. Jewish Home is expected to finish third with as many as 14 seats. Labor, the main leftist party, will win about 17 seats.

In the centre, Hatenua, led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, and Yesh Atid, which is run by a charismatic former television personality, are to win between eight and 10 seats each. Both leaders have said that they would consider joining a new administration led by Mr Netanyahu.

If last Friday’s polls were correct, Mr Netanyahu will be able to form a right wing government, with about 63 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

Polling began at 7am local time and closes at 10pm, with exit polls immediately expected to predict a winner. However, it could then take weeks of bargaining and negotiation to decide on the final make-up of the new government.