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Israeli TV Exit Polls: Race Too Close to Call

by Scott Bobb March 17, 2015

Israeli television exit polls released as voting ended in the country's parliamentary election say the race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and Isaac Herzog's center-left Zionist Union alliance is too close to call.

Netanyahu is striving to win a fourth term as prime minister. With neither candidate expected to win the 61-seat parliamentary majority, both candidates made a furious last-minute push for support from smaller groups ranging from communist and Arab-led parties to orthodox Jewish blocs.

This could be the heaviest turnout in an Israeli election in quite some time, which is being attributed to the exceptionally tight race.

Other issues also are involved, in that there is a contest on the right side between the right-wing parties and on the left between the left-wing parties, and many say that it will be the center-left parties, a couple of smaller parties, that may be the ones that are the kingmakers of this election.

The latest pre-election surveys for the 120-member parliament showed Netanyahu's Likud party trailing a few seats behind Herzog's center-left alliance.

In Jerusalem's working-class neighborhood of Katamonim, Ester Dabul, 74, went to the polls in her wheelchair.

She said everyone should come and vote wth her. 'It is good that they vote,' she said, 'for the people to become stronger, to be together, hand in hand, one heart, one soul.'

Office worker Sari Levi, a divorced mother of two, said socio-economic issues were her highest priority.

Levi said she wants the government to take care of the weak, the elderly, those who cannot afford housing and young couples. For the sake of her children, she also would like the new government to restart the stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, she said.

With neither candidate expected to win the 61-seat parliamentary majority, there has been a furious campaign push by the candidates to rally support from smaller groups ranging from communist and Arab-led parties to orthodox Jewish blocs.

Netanyahu called Tuesday's election three months ago when he fired his senior coalition partners. Analysts say these elections have become a referendum on the prime minister's leadership.

Seeking an unprecedented fourth term, Netanyahu has underscored his record as a strong leader who would protect Israel's security. Herzog countered that Netanyahu had failed to deliver on his promises to reduce the cost of living and shrink the gap between rich and poor.

Palestinian statehood

Ahead of the voting, Netanyahu reversed his earlier stance on Palestinian statehood, saying Monday that he will never support a Palestinian state if he remains in office.

'I think that whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel: This is the genuine reality that was created here in the past few years. Those who do not understand that bury their heads in the sand,' the Israeli leader said.

His comments marked a reversal of long-standing promises to the U.S. and were seen as a last-ditch effort to appeal to hard-line voters.

Critics cite Netanyahu's reversal on Palestinian statehood as evidence that he was never fully committed to the long-stalled Middle East peace process. Supporters largely attribute his revised stance to rising tensions with Hamas and its widely perceived Iranian backers.

Herzog has said Israel should negotiate with the Palestinians. He has promised to revive peace efforts, repair ties with the U.S. and reduce the growing gaps between rich and poor.

'Whoever wants to follow [Netanyahu's] path of despair and disappointment will vote for him,'' Herzog said after casting his vote, The Associated Press reported. 'But whoever wants change, hope and really a better future for Israel will vote the Zionist Union led by me.''

Voter turnout

Voter interest has also been raised by four Arab-led parties that joined forces to form the United List. According to opinion polls, it could win the third largest number of parliamentary seats.

In the predominantly Arab neighborhood, Beit Safafa, teacher Wafa Awad, 30, said this is a special day for her.

Awad told VOA she voted for the first time today because she has a feeling there is something new, especially since the Arab-led parties joined together. Awad added that she hopes Arab Israelis get a positive result out of it.

Lawyer Osama Sa'adi said the United List would be a force for positive change for Arab-Israelis, who form 20 percent of the Israeli population but are under-represented in government and civil service.

"This is a very big difference and we want to use this power in order to influence the map of Israel and to achieve a just peace, democracy and full rights and equality for our people,' he said.

Elections day is a public holiday in Israel. Most people do not go to work, beaches and restaurants fill up, and stores advertise sales.

Facebook is featuring a special 'I voted'' button in Hebrew, as it has during elections in other countries, in an effort to get out the vote.

In electing the 120-member parliament, Israelis are casting ballots for party lists rather than individual candidates.

Neither party is expected to win the 61-seat majority needed to form the next government. As a result, jockeying already has begun for the backing of smaller parties. Analysts say centrist parties or religious parties could hold the balance of power and become the king-makers.

Some material for this report came from AP.

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