Israel's Elections: Making a Hard Right

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Ariel Schalit / AP

A soldier walks past an election campaign billboard for Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

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Israeli voters are also worried that Netanyahu — and his objections to a proposed Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza — may clash with the Obama Administration. Otherwise, the ex-premier, with his flawless American accent (he went to M.I.T.) and mannerisms, is media-ready for the U.S. Netanyahu says he will refuse to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and to share Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Both are seen as key to an accord with the Palestinians. Netanyahu also says Israel will stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, by force if necessary, while the White House is making more conciliatory noises towards Tehran lately.

The Israeli press has often repeated a quote from ex-President Bill Clinton, that Netanyahu "thinks he's the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires." Few Israelis want to their new premier to jeopardize their country's special relationship with Washington. The more moderate Livni and Barak are seen as less likely to rile the Obama Administration.

One fourth of Israel's 5.2 million voters are still undecided, but if Tuesday's results mirror the earlier polls, Netanyahu is likely to lead a rightwing coalition cobbled together with Lieberman's party, along with the ultra-religious and nationalist parties, all of which oppose giving up land to the Palestinians for a future state, a solution pushed by the U.S. and the international community.

But if Livni's last-minute surge continues, especially among women voters, Kadima could emerge as the leading party. Labor and the smaller leftwing parties would rally to her side, but only if she refuses to draft the hawkish Lieberman into her coalition. Yet without Lieberman's backing, Livni will fall short of a majority in the Knesset. So Lieberman, the ex-nightclub bouncer, will decide if it is Livni or Netanyahu who is allowed past the velvet rope to this charmed circle of power. And whoever gains entrance has no choice but to bring Lieberman in with them.

See pictures of Israeli soldiers sweeping into Gaza.

See pictures of Israel's deadly assault on Gaza

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