Early elections in Israel could bring a change in power and a change in direction for the Middle East peace process. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.
A new poll shows Israel's hawkish right wing winning early elections in February. The Jerusalem Post poll has the right, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, winning 64 seats in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament. The center and left, led by dovish Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, would win 56 seats, including 10 for the anti-Zionist Arab parties.
|A picture of former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as part of a promotion for municipal election candidates, Jerusalem, 26, Oct. 2008|
That would put Netanyahu in a strong position to form a new government. Netanyahu has vowed to halt Livni's plan for the creation of a Palestinian state and says he will not negotiate on Jerusalem.
Israelis are divided over the peace process so the election is bound to be close. Polls throughout the week showed a virtual tie between Netanyahu and Livni, who hopes to become Israel's first woman prime minister in more than 30 years.
Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz said Netanyahu, who served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, has a key advantage over Livni: experience.
He added, "The concern that a lot of people have, which may be unfounded, is that she's relatively unproven, that it's only nine years that she entered the Knesset, that she was only really tested as foreign minister during the Second Lebanon War when she arranged a diplomatic conclusion to the war on terms that have not held."
The Second Lebanon War two years ago was widely seen as a failure. A 34-day Israeli air and ground assault on Lebanon failed to deal a knockout blow to the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah, which has rearmed in violation of the U.N. ceasefire resolution.
|Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni speaks following a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, 26 Oct. 2008|
Horovitz said, "So I think there are genuine reasons for concern; [but] she may be capable of dispelling them."
As Israel's chief negotiator in peace talks, Livni has offered the Palestinians at least 93 percent of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. So Israelis have a clear choice in the upcoming elections: to decide whether they want a Palestinian state in their backyard, or not.