Israelis are today voting for the party they want to lead a new government.
The campaign has been dominated by the most recent conflict in Gaza, led by the ruling Kadima party of Tzipi Livni. Livni, a 50 year-old former Mossad agent, is the outgoing Foreign Minister behind stuttering peace talks with Palestinians. Recently she has narrowed the opinion poll lead held by Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party. A former prime minister, Netanyahu has promised tougher terms regarding peace negotiations with Palestinians. Latest polls suggest he and Livni are in a close battle to lead the next government. The centre-left Labour party, the founder of the state of Israel, languishes in fourth place in the polls. Lead by outgoing Defence Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Labour’s best hopes would appear to be limited to playing junior partner in the next coalition. One result of the Gaza conflict is a shift to the right, which would explain the resurgence of ultra-right party Yisrael Beiteinu. Its leader Avigdor Lieberman has pledged a much tougher line on Palestinians. He is also a supporter of Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank. For the first time in years, the word “peace” has been absent from campaigning by any party. One possibility is that Lieberman will syphon off some votes from the more moderate right-wing Netanyahu. In such a close race, the score of smaller parties may decide which of the main parties will win the most seats. The leader of that winning party will likely then be asked to form a coalition, a task that itself may take weeks.