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ISRAEL

Netanyahu promises no Palestinian state if re-elected

Menahem Kahana, AFP | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the Har Homa settlement on March 16, 2015
3 min

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a last ditch attempt Monday to secure more votes in Tuesday’s general election by vowing to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state if he is re-elected.

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Speaking at the Har Homa settlement, a contentious settlement neighbourhood of annexed east Jerusalem, the 65-year-old premier also promised to build thousands of new settler homes.

"My friends and I in Likud will preserve the unity of Jerusalem," he said, noting he would prevent any future division of the city.

"We will continue to build in Jerusalem, we will add thousands of housing units, and in the face of all the (international) pressure, we will persist and continue to develop our eternal capital," he said.

With polling stations due to open at 0500 GMT on Tuesday, Israel's political elite fanned out to pin down wavering voters ahead of an election which experts agree is likely to be a referendum on the Netanyahu years.

Right-wing Netanyahu has based his campaign solidly on security issues, giving short shrift to the economic issues which have played a central role in campaigning by the centre-left Zionist Union and several other parties.

Final opinion polls published late last week put the Zionist Union, headed by opposition leader Isaac Herzog and former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, ahead with 25-26 seats with Netanyahu's Likud taking 20-22 in the 120-seat Knesset.

No single party has ever won an outright majority in the legislature, making coalitions the norm.

Sunday saw Netanyahu make overtures to the centre-right Kulanu party, which is largely expected to play the role of kingmaker, offering the finance portfolio to its leader Moshe Kahlon who dismissed this as "spin".

Strategic backdrop

Faced with the projected results, Netanyahu, who is seeking his fourth term as Israel’s prime minister, has ramped up his appeals to win back disaffected supporters who have shifted their allegiance to smaller right-wing parties.

By using the Har Homa settlement as a strategic backdrop for his final day of campaigning, Netanyahu tried to convince voters of his determination to make Jerusalem Israel’s indivisible capital in its peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Herzog and Livni of being ready to abandon that promise.

Har Homa is a controversial settlement on a hilltop in a part of the occupied West Bank that Israel annexed, along with nearby East Jerusalem, after the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians, who call the site Jabal Abu Ghneim, have long viewed Har Homa’s construction – which was promoted by Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister in 1997 - as an attempt to tighten Israeli control around the holy city which they claim as the capital of their future state.

"I thought we had to protect the southern gateway to Jerusalem by building here," Netanyahu said in his campaign speech.

"There was huge objection, because this neighbourhood is in a location which prevents the Palestinian (territorial) contiguity," he said.

Reliable polls?

Although the polls give the Zionist Union a solid lead over Likud, experts have warned about their reliability, pointing to the 2013 election when they completely failed to predict the level of support for centrist newcomer Yesh Atid.

"In all previous elections we had considerable differences between the predictions of the public opinion polls and (the results)," said Professor Avraham Diskin, a political scientist from Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

"Yesh Atid didn't get more than 10 or 11 seats in the public opinion polls and finally got twice as many -- 19 seats."

With some 70 percent of the electorate usually remaining loyal either to left- or right-wing parties, "it’s enough for three to five percent to move from one bloc to another to ... get a dramatic change in the future government of Israel," Diskin said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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