As Israelis went to the polls on Tuesday, leading candidates made last-minute efforts to shore up supporters in a tight competition for political control.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who risks losing his position at the helm of Israel’s government, announced Monday that if re-elected he would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The statement contradicts a speech he made in 2009 supporting a two-state solution.
In the preceding weeks, Netanyahu had emphasized the need to vote for his own Likud Party, instead of his numerous competitors on the right. The last-ditch policy reversal may have been an attempt to win back voters from hawkish parties including Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu. (RELATED: Netanyahu Slipping In Israeli And American Polls)
Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union voting bloc, Netanyahu’s main challenger, countered in an interview on Monday with Israel’s i24 News, saying, “It’s important to have a Palestinian state in order to have a Jewish majority for many generations.”
And despite campaigning for weeks with Herzog in a proposed “rotation” plan for the seat of Prime Minister, former Netanyahu cabinet minister Tzipi Livni announced late Monday that Herzog alone would serve a full term as head of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, if elected. Livni and Herzog formed the Zionist Union candidate list in January as a pair of high-profile candidates with grievances against Netanyahu. (RELATED: Will Netanyahu Remain Israel’s Prime Minister?)
Herzog, whose father emigrated from Ireland and whose grandfather was that country’s chief rabbi, reportedly said that he hoped to receive “the luck of the Irish” on the St. Patrick’s Day election, and that he would celebrate victory with a pint of Guinness.
On the day of the polls, Netanyahu warned online that Arab voters, who comprise 20 percent of the Israeli population, were “streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” Israel’s majority-Arab parties are unified on a single ticket this year, called the Joint List, and may be the decisive force in creating a governing coalition to unseat Netanyahu. (RELATED: How Arabs Might Pick Israel’s Next Prime Minister)
But the most unusual election-day surprise came from a Likud candidate for re-election to the Knesset, Ze’ev Elkin. His 90-year-old grandfather, who had actively lobbied his neighbors to vote for Likud, died at his East Jerusalem polling place immediately after casting his ballot.
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