The Vote Offensive

The last four Israeli elections have been won by a party which promised peace with the Palestinians. As Israel votes on Tuesday,days after the Gaza attacks,this time could be different....

Published:February 10, 2009 2:56 am

The Edge

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

(Likud Party)

The timing is just right for Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. The Gaza attack has ended the ideological drift in Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud party and helped the party take a lead in the polls. Netanyahu is riding the wave and isn’t getting off in a hurry.

A decade after he was ousted,Netanyahu is poised to come back to power. Though his former aide Avigdor Lieberman has been taking voters away to the right of Likud,Netanyahu is ahead of Kadima’s Tzipi Livni in pre-election polls and looks best placed to form a coalition.

Netanyahu,59,the US-educated son of a professor of Jewish history,has held on to Likud’s view that ceding occupied Arab land unilaterally had backfired. In 1996,he became the youngest Israeli prime minister,defeating Labor’s Shimon Peres,whose peace deals with Palestinians was blown away by a spate of Hamas suicide bombings.

Netanyahu said last week that he hoped US President Barack Obama would limit his engagement with Iran and insist on dismantling its nuclear programme. agencies

Will it be Livni?

TZIPI LIVNI

(Kadima Party)

Tzipi Livni,50,is reshaping the centrist Kadima Party in her image,reaching out to female and far-left voters who never supported the party founded by the gruff Ariel Sharon. Israel’s foreign minister is working to retain Kadima’s base while leapfrogging over the traditionally leftist Labor party and attracting voters further left on the political spectrum. Livni has portrayed herself as the only candidate who can deliver a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.

Livni is honing an image that combines the strength and decisiveness that Israelis seek in their leaders with a distinctly girl-power vibe—along with a dose of Barack Obama-styled hope and change rhetoric.

Livni rose to public prominence as a protege of the larger-than-life Sharon and followed him from Likud when he formed Kadima. When a series of strokes incapacitated Sharon,she emerged as a lieutenant and sometime-rival to his successor,Ehud Olmert. The recent Israeli offensive in Gaza was conducted jointly by Livni,Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak. LATWP

The hawk

AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN

(Ysirael BeiteIu Party

Avigdor Lieberman’s attacks on Arabs have shaken up the race for parliament and prime minister. He is drawing large,boisterous crowds who delight in chanting his slogan—“Without loyalty,there is no citizenship”—and back his proposal for a mandatory loyalty oath to the Jewish state.

His party has scored the biggest gains in the final week of the campaign and moved into third place,according to polls.

The husky 50-year-old firebrand,who once worked as a bar bouncer,has made a political career by cultivating a strongman image that appeals to many of his fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union,who number roughly 1 million.

Lieberman could well be the pivotal player as Israel forms a multi-party governing coalition after Tuesday’s election. Lieberman’s momentum,fuelled by Israel’s recent offensive in the Gaza Strip,has tightened the contest,making the race too close to call. The two leading candidates,wary of his clout,have refrained from criticising him. LATWP

Edged out

EHUD BARAK

(Labor Party)

“Until I came along,nothing happened. For eight years,rockets fell on three governments,and only we brought calm. If we are required to strike Gaza again,we will,and even harder,” Edud Barak of the Labor Party said last week. That’s a distinct sign that the Gaza conflict has made even the dovish former Prime Minister look hawkish.

Barak served as the 10th prime minister of Israel from 1999 to 2001. After losing the 2001 election,Barak embarked on a business career. On June 12,2007,he made a political comeback by winning the Labor Party leadership election. He was appointed Minister of Defence,replacing outgoing party leader Amir Peretz. Analysts say if Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister,he may include the Labor Party in his coalition,which will mean keeping Barak,a former military Chief of Staff,in his current post of Defence Minister.

Born on a communal farm in 1942 to Holocaust survivors,he spent 36 years in the army,becoming Israel’s military chief of staff. AgencieS

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