The latest regarding Israel's 2009 elections:
| Kadima Leads But Likud Might Govern
With 99% of the votes counted, it appears that Kadima has edged out Likud to win the elections. However, Likud may still be granted the right to form a government by President Shimon Peres because Kadima was unable to prior to the election when it actually held more seats that it does now. Moreover, the bloc of right-wing parties is much larger than the left-wing bloc, another factor that may make Benjamin Netanyahu, and not Tzipi Livni, the next Prime Minister of Israel.
Results for all the parties are:
Un. Torah Judaism....5
United Arab List.....4
| High Turnout After Sleepy Campaign
By 4pm Israeli time on election day nearly 42% of eligible voters had cast their vote.
This is a 3% higher turnout for the same time period during the hotly contested 2006 elections.
The higher turn has surprised many as the entire 2009 electoral campaign -- much of which was carried out in a highly muted manner during the Gaza War -- was considered particularly lackluster.
| Election Day: 5.2M Israelis Can Vote
By Gil Hoffman , THE JERUSALEM POST
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni will begin their day on Tuesday morning by casting their ballots in the hopes of ending their night with a victory party in the election for the 18th Knesset.
Both leading candidates expressed cautious optimism on Monday that they would emerge victorious in the election, but their associates said they expected the race to be very close and that it was possible that neither side would win decisively.
In final messages to their potential voters, delivered in meetings with top party activists and media interviews, Netanyahu and Livni stressed that the race was between the two of them and that whoever voted for a smaller party would end up with a prime minister they did not want.
"With God's help, we will win," Netanyahu said on a visit to the Western Wall Monday evening.
"Victory is at hand," Livni declared on a train ride from Tel Aviv to the Negev.
Some 5.2 million people are eligible to vote in 9,263 polling stations nationwide. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. in most municipalities. Exit polls will be broadcast on the three networks at 10 p.m., but real results are not expected to be available until after 2 a.m. Wednesday, and if the race is close, perhaps not before 5 a.m.
President Shimon Peres is expected to meet with both Netanyahu and Livni after the results are published and, following consultations with the heads of the factions elected to the Knesset, to entrust one of them with forming a new government.
Netanyahu and Livni said they would form a national-unity government that would be as wide as possible, but they both hinted Monday that should the other win the race, they would not join the victor's coalition.
Livni said she expected Netanyahu to join the government if she formed it, but she all but ruled out joining if he won.
"I will not participate in a government that I am not leading and that I do not believe in," Livni said in media interviews. "I will not be a fig leaf for a path that I do not believe in. People have to know that if they vote for Bibi, that's what they will get, and they will get Shas, too."
Sources close to Netanyahu said that even if Kadima won more seats than the Likud, the size of the right-wing bloc would prevent Livni from forming a coalition. They said that even if Kadima defeated Likud, the Right bloc's victory over the Left would require Peres to let Netanyahu form the government.
"I think the Likud will win more seats than Kadima, but I am absolutely sure that the Right will win many more seats than the Left," a source close to Netanyahu said. "If the Left shrinks by 15 seats, that would be a big rejection of Kadima. Even if Livni somehow pulls off more seats than Likud, the Right will win a big victory, and [the president] won't be able snatch its victory away."
Livni's associates countered that if she won the race by one seat, it would mean that she was the choice of the public.
Channel 10 reported that Labor chairman Ehud Barak had made a deal with Netanyahu in which he agreed to prevent Livni from forming a government in return for the Defense portfolio. Kadima officials said that in such a scenario, the Left would pressure Barak to reject Netanyahu in her favor.
Barak said on Monday that if Labor did not win close to 20 seats, he would not be able to justify joining the coalition even if he were still guaranteed the Defense portfolio.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, whose party is expected to win more seats than Labor, has not ruled out joining a government led by Netanyahu or Livni, but the party's No. 2 candidate, former minister Uzi Landau, suggested on Monday that his party would remain in the opposition if Livni won the race.
Both Likud and Kadima have already begun contacts with smaller factions in an effort to begin the process of forming a government.
Kadima's strategists said their party was going into the election with momentum that the Likud lacked. They said they had learned from past elections that momentum was worth two or three mandates due to the boost it gave organizationally.
In an effort to restore his party's momentum, Netanyahu held a press conference on Monday with former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's son, Yuval, who once accused the Likud leader of inciting for his father's death. Rabin praised Netanyahu for his intention to unite the nation by forming a national-unity government.
But the event ended up backfiring for Netanyahu because Rabin was heckled by demonstrators from Meretz, and he later admitted that he intended to vote for Labor.
"Bibi's manipulation boomeranged on him, and he ended up scoring for us in his own goal," said the head of the Labor campaign's response team, MK Ophir Paz-Pines.
| Kiss of Death? Olmert Endorses Livni
Gil Hoffman , THE JERUSALEM POST
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert entered the political fray at the eleventh hour ahead of Tuesday's election when he announced at a Maccabiah conference on Sunday night that he hopes Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will succeed him.
The endorsement came after weeks of speculation, spurred by Livni's associates, that Olmert was secretly working behind the scenes on behalf of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.
"I know all the parties and all the candidates, maybe more than anyone," Olmert said. "I think that the rest of the candidates had a chance and didn't pass the test. Livni is a candidate who can lead Israel to a serious and responsible peace process with security. She showed determination during the war and wisdom in the diplomatic process."
Livni's associates tried to distance themselves from Olmert's announcement and said privately that they were concerned that the support of the unpopular prime minister would do more harm than good.
Kadima's rivals pounced on Olmert's endorsement, using it as political fodder to attack Livni.
"The fact that a man from Livni's party took three years and a long campaign to announce after much contemplation that he supports her proves more than anything how much scorn he really feels for her," a Labor campaign spokesman said.
Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, who has sparred with Olmert for decades, said he could tell from Olmert's intonation that his speech was not intended to help Livni
"The music of his voice wasn't supportive," Rivlin said. "He's not enthusiastic, because he knows his foreign minister's inabilities better than anyone else."
Livni and Netanyahu attacked each other in the final events of their campaigns on Sunday night. In an emotional and energized speech to Kadima activists at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Livni said she sensed that her "victory is at hand." She painted herself as the candidate of hope and her opponents as the dispatchers of doom.
"We have proven that even in difficult times, it is possible to replace despair with dreams," Livni said. "I know that on the eve of the election, there are those who scare people with threats to Israel from inside and out. But I have enough strength to speak in the name of what we have in common and not in the name of fear, despair and hatred."
According to a Livni associate, the politicians who promulgated the fear, despair and hatred to which she referred were Netanyahu, Labor chairman Ehud Barak and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, respectively. But a Kadima strategist said that all three negative attributes referred to Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, countered in a rally in Haifa by accusing Livni of cowardice for excusing herself from a vote in Sunday's cabinet meeting approving massive expenditures for the building of a new official residence for the prime minister.
"What we need is not a new Prime Minister's Office, but a new prime minister," Netanyahu said.
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu toured the Golan Heights and planted a eucalyptus tree together with his son, Avner. Netanyahu defiantly vowed that the region would remain under Israeli control and that Avner would bring his grandchildren to the tree.
"The Golan will only remain in our hands if the Likud wins the election," Netanyahu said. "If Kadima wins, we will not remain in the Golan, and we'll only continue with more concessions."
| Likud & Kadima Nearly Tied
Likud and Kadima are in a neck-and-neck race to be the next Knesset's largest party, according to the latest Haaretz-Dialog poll.
The poll, the last to be published before next Tuesday's election, showed the gap between the two parties continuing to narrow: It is now down to only two seats in Likud's favor.
In contrast, Avigdor Lieberman's far-right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party continues to surge: The latest poll, which surveyed 1,000 people - double the usual number - showed it winning 18 seats, up from 15 last week. If this forecast proves accurate, Labor will be relegated, for the first time in its history, to the fourth-largest party, with only 14 seats.
The close race between the right-wing Likud and more centrist Kadima has finally injected some long-overdue excitement into the campaign. A few weeks ago, Likud seemed to have victory sewed up. Now it is in real danger of losing out to Kadima.
But when it comes to forming a coalition, Likud still has a clear edge over its rival: Even in the unlikely event of Lieberman choosing to throw his support behind Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni rather than Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, the only coalition Livni could form would be highly unstable. And without Lieberman, she has no coalition at all.
Over the course of the campaign, both Likud and Kadima have lost seats. Likud, however, has lost more, mainly to Lieberman - in part thanks to Kadima's vicious attacks on Netanyahu. Netanyahu therefore plans to spend the last few days before the election in a major drive to win these votes back, primarily by warning that a vote for any smaller rightist party increases the chances of Kadima becoming the largest party and being given first crack at forming a government.
With regard to the overall right-left split, however, the right has maintained a consistent edge throughout the campaign. Out of a total of 120 seats, the latest poll gives the leftist bloc only 54 seats, including eight for the Arab parties, which would not actually be included in any government - and which dislike Livni as much as they do Netanyahu.
The rightist bloc, in contrast, has 66 seats. This gives Netanyahu a choice of four possible coalitions: an exclusively rightist-religious one (which he does not want), a rightist-religious one with the addition of Labor, a rightist-religious one with the addition of Kadima, or a government with both Labor and Kadima plus a few smaller parties.
However, if Likud indeed wins fewer than 30 seats, none of these configurations would make a stable coalition: Likud would have little ability to impose its own agenda, and the coalition might well fall apart swiftly. As a result, Likud officials are already up in arms about the mismanaged campaign, and even if the party wins, the knives are liable to come out afterward.
Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they had not yet decided who to vote for. The real rate, according to the poll's supervisor, Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel-Aviv University, is probably closer to 15 percent. That is still equivalent to 18 seats - theoretically enough to radically change the outcome of the vote.
However, most of the movement is likely to be within blocs rather than between them, meaning the rightist bloc will still probably emerge with an edge.
This may be why, despite the increasingly close race between Likud and Kadima, most of the public remains convinced that Likud has the victory sewed up. Only 30 percent of respondents said they want Netanyahu to be the next prime minister. But 64 percent said they think he will be.
If Yisrael Beiteinu does become the third largest party, Lieberman will be able to demand a senior ministerial portfolio for himself - defense, finance or foreign affairs.
Labor, in this scenario, would not be able to veto the larger party's participation in the government, which is why Labor chairman Ehud Barak has been careful to say that he does not rule out sitting in a coalition with Lieberman. With only 14 seats, however, Barak is likely to have trouble overruling members of his party who would prefer to have Labor remain in opposition.
| Poll: Likud Slips, But Likely to Win
The Likud will win an unexpectedly close race but the right-wing bloc will easily defeat the Left, according to a consensus of polls taken ahead of Friday, the last date polls can be published before Tuesday's election.
A Jerusalem Post/Smith Research poll found that the Right would win some 65 seats, led by the Likud's 26 and Israel Beiteinu's 17-18. The Left would win some 55 seats, led by Kadima's 23 and Labor's 14.
Likud's three-seat lead over Kadima is down from six mandates when the last Smith poll was published January 2. While Kadima has remained stagnant since then, Likud has lost three seats to Avigdor Lieberman's resurgent Israel Beiteinu.
Other polls showed similar trends. A Panels poll taken for Channel 2's Web site found that the gap between Likud and Kadima had fallen to only one seat, and a Dialogue poll taken for Ha'aretz put the gap at two. The largest gap between Likud and Kadima is six seats, in a Gal Hadash poll for Israel Hayom.
Lieberman continued to rise in nearly every poll, hitting a peak of 21 seats in a poll taken by the Geocartographic Institute for the Globes newspaper.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu expressed concern on Thursday that if too many right-wing voters cast ballots for the Likud's satellite parties, his party could end up losing the election despite leading the entire campaign.
"Most of the people in the national camp want to see me as prime minister and want the Likud's policies," Netanyahu told a packed audience of some 250 English-speaking Likud supporters at Jerusalem's Crown Plaza Hotel.
"But they all think I'm going to get elected anyway, so they think they can vote for other parties in the national camp. If they do that, the gap between Likud and Kadima narrows. And if that happens, there could be a very unfortunate result."
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, expressed satisfaction with the narrowing gap in the polls. An internal Kadima poll conducted by party pollster Kalman Geyer Wednesday night found that the party actually had a one-seat lead.
"I'm going to win against all odds," Livni said in closed conversations Thursday. "This is a historic opportunity, and I believe the public will make it happen. The momentum of the last week and a half will bring victory."
Kadima strategist Lior Chorev said that despite the significant lead for the right-wing bloc over the Left and Kadima, Livni would have no problem forming a government. He said it would actually be easier for her to form a government than Netanyahu, because as the leader of a centrist party she could bring in virtually any party, while the Likud might have to struggle to bridge the gaps between Shas and Israel Beiteinu on civil issues.
"If we get one seat more than Likud, we will prove that there really are no blocs, and we will easily form a government," Chorev said. "The undecided decided one thing. They don't want Bibi. Now we just have to persuade them to vote Kadima. We just have to let the wind blow our sails as it did the last week, and we will win the race."
Israel Beiteinu's strategists expressed confidence that they, too, would maintain their momentum and keep rising until Tuesday's real results were in. They said they would continue to "capitalize on the anger and frustration citizens feel against Israeli Arabs."
When the poll indicating that Israel Beiteinu would win 21 seats was published, Lieberman congratulated the 21st candidate on his list, Danny Hershtal, an oleh from Toronto.
"Get yourself a suit, you are getting in," Lieberman told Hershtal, who would be the first Canadian-born MK since the late Zvi Weinberg of Yisrael Ba'aliya and the late Montreal-born minister Dov Yosef before him.
"I won't get too excited yet, because there's still a lot of work to do to get the people who answered the poll to actually make it to a polling station and put the right ballot in," Hershtal said.
The Likud Anglo event attracted a crowd of some 500 people. Former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon spoke about the lack of hope currently being experienced by the people of Israel.
"I have found that in the last couple of years, the Israeli people have stopped believing in their leaders, and their leaders have stopped believing in the people of Israel," Ya'alon said.
According to Ya'alon, this loss of hope was the result of the current government's policies of concession and retreat, which in turn had "empowered extremism and Jihadism" worldwide.
"As a result of the land-for-peace formula and the Oslo Accords, we got land for terror, with more than 1,000 casualties. With the disengagement from Gaza, we got land for rockets. Kadima hasn't learned their lesson yet," he said. "This weak leadership has eroded our confidence and needs to be replaced."
| UN: Israel Did NOT Strike Gaza School
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent
The United Nations has reversed its stance on one of the most contentious and bloody incidents of the recent Israel Defense Forces operation in Gaza, saying that an IDF mortar strike that killed 43 people on January 6 did not hit one of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools after all.
It seems that the UN has been under pressure to put the record straight after doubts arose that the school had actually been targeted. Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem, said Monday that the IDF mortar shells fell in the street near the compound, and not on the compound itself.
Gaylord said that the UN "would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school."
UNRWA, an agency whose sole purpose is to work with Palestinian refugees, said in response Tuesday that it had maintained from the day of attack that the wounded were outside of the school compound. UNRWA said that the source of the mistake in recent weeks had originated with a separate branch of the United Nations.
Senior IDF officials had previously expressed skepticism that the school had been struck, saying that two mortar shells could not kill 43 people and wound dozens more.
Questions about the veracity of the claims that the school had been hit by the IDF were also raised last week by the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. The newspaper said that a teacher in the UNRWA compound at the time of the strike "was adamant" that no people had been killed inside the compound.
| Candidates Seek Votes in TA Clubs
Major intersections were always an important arena in Israeli election campaigns, but this time around, distributing fliers to impatient drivers has been replaced by downing shots in popular pubs. It appears that every self-respecting bar in Tel Aviv has been visited by politicians, generally from the three largest parties.
Last night, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni hit the dance floor at Tel Aviv's Haoman 17 along with fellow Kadima members Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and MK Tzachi Hanegbi. The head of the party's youth campaign, MK Yohanan Plesner, is planning pub crawls for candidates locales including Jerusalem and Ashkelon.
"There's an electricity in the air" at these events, Plesner said. "It's not pathetic, because no one tries to be something they're not. It's just politicians talking with the pub-goers in a more comfortable manner."
Last week the Labor Party rented out Landen in Tel Aviv to watch the evening's televised election broadcasts, with alcohol. The party's youth campaign head, Maayan Amodai, said that party director general Eitan Cabel, as well as MK Shelly Yachimovich, Science Minister Ophir Pines-Paz and others have been taking part in the bar-hopping.
"They're people who enjoy and know how to have a good time," Amodai said. Last weekend the candidates visited Lehman Brothers, a bar at the Tel Aviv Port, and other outings are in the works. Amodai said most of the visits are to bars in Tel Aviv, "mainly because there are more places here. In other parts of Israel we hold other activities," she said.
"It creates a good, friendly atmosphere," Plesner said. "Last Thursday Tzipi walked around the Tel Aviv Port, drinking a little and talking with the revelers, and I can tell you they went simply nuts. The responses were excellent," Plesner said.
Tonight Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron will be out meeting younger voters at Landen, and tomorrow the Meretz Youth Wing will hold a party at The Apartment.
Meretz campaign manager Nissim Douek offers another perspective on the bar-hopping trend: "These rounds at the bars are ridiculous. When Jumas [Oron] goes somewhere, it's not just to cross it off his list and have photos taken. He comes not to drink but to talk, sometimes for three hours, with the people."
Likud did have plans to jump on the bar bandwagon, but they have not borne fruit. About six weeks ago a party was arranged at Tel Aviv's Villa Sokolov, with chairman Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance, but the military operations in Gaza led to its cancelation. Subsequent plans for bar visits have not been put into action.
Party workers seemed to be at a loss to explain the move from highway intersections to bars. "Maybe it's the green trend, maybe it's the winter or maybe simply the desire to work in a more focused fashion," Amodai said. A source in Kadima who did not want to be identified had another explanation: "Tzipi, as a woman and as someone with a clean reputation, is going strong among young people in Tel Aviv, and the direct activity with this group helps a lot."
| Netanyahu: We'll Take Out Hamas
From: THE JERUSALEM POST www.Jpost.com
Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday promised that a government under his leadership would topple the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.
"[Kadima leader] Tzipi Livni and the people of Kadima scoffed at the predictions regarding rocket fire. A government under my leadership will overthrow the Hamas rule in Gaza and bring about a cessation of rocket fire," Netanyahu said during a tour of Ashkelon following the first Grad rocket attack since the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead some two weeks ago.
"The policy of blindness followed in the past years has brought us to this situation," Netanyahu continued. "Residents can no longer count on miracles and Kadima policy."
Livni herself hinted that Hamas may come up against another IDF operation should rocket fire continue hitting the south of Israel.
"My opinion on this matter is clear: Every attack must be met with a response," the foreign minister told Jerusalem Radio Tuesday, rejecting out of hand the possibility of diplomatic contact with Hamas.
"Any negotiations with Hamas, whether direct or indirect, are harmful. From a strategic standpoint […] I think that we should make peace with the moderate elements," Livni said.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak said that despite the continued rocket fire, Hamas was still interested in maintaining a state of calm in Gaza.
"We hit Hamas very hard, and it is picking up the pieces right now," Barak said during a tour of the North. "It is really interested in quiet, but the rocket fire is a fact, and we cannot ignore facts."
Barak also warned that continued rocket fire would be met with a harsh response, "harsher even" than Operation Cast Lead.
| Lieberman's Looking Large
By: Abe Selig, THE JERUSALEM POST www.Jpost.com
On the eve of the 2006 general elections, Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu Party held just three seats in the Knesset and was seen as little threat to the traditional powerhouses that had dominated the Knesset for decades.
But now, with just over a week before the 2009 elections, Lieberman's party is poised to become the third-largest in the country, surpassing the fledgling Labor Party with 16 projected mandates and a Knesset list that runs the gamut from former models to former ambassadors.
So how has this party, often dismissed by its critics as a populist fluke, risen from its humble beginnings as a party for Russian immigrants to a full-blown political juggernaut?
"I think the Israeli voter respects our honesty," former ambassador to the US and current Israel Beiteinu Knesset candidate Danny Ayalon told the The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "What we offer is a very direct, logical platform that caters to the voters' common sense, and I think more and more people are waking up to that."
If the polls are any indication, Ayalon is right. Nearly every survey taken in recent weeks has charted Israel Beiteinu's consistent rising star, moving in on the Labor Party for the No. 3 spot in the government and wooing more Israeli voters than ever before.
"If they can hold on to their momentum, Israel Beiteinu will be the biggest election surprise of 2009," pollster Rafi Smith of the Rafi Smith Institute told the Post. "Even before [Operation Cast Lead], they had good signals going for them, but during the war they received a huge boost."
Smith explained that the party's message - mainly one of loyalty to the state, a message perceived to be directed at the country's Israeli Arab population - was vindicated during the war, as rockets rained down on the South and images of Israeli Arab protesters in places like Sakhnin and Haifa were splashed across the nightly news waving Hamas flags and shouting, "Death to the Jews!"
"Additionally, I think many people, especially residents of the South, were unhappy with the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead," Smith said. "There is a feeling that we didn't finish the job - and we've seen that in our research. The numbers show it."
Smith explained that "we basically have the same number of Russian voters supporting Israel Beiteinu as in years past - between 40 and 45 percent. So how do you explain the sharp rise? It's veteran Israelis. They're making all the difference for this party right now."
Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, a long-time activist in Russian immigrant politics in Israel, agreed.
"The Russian vote for Israel Beiteinu is more or less the same as it's always been," she said. "There's no change there, and Lieberman is certainly not reaching out to them any more than usual. The only way to explain their rise in popularity is with the vatikim, the veteran Israelis who now suddenly want to vote for them.
"I find it a bit scary," Solodkin continued. "To me they're like fascists."
But to more and more Israelis, Israel Beiteinu is offering exactly what they want to hear.
"The Israeli voter is tired of politicians telling everyone what to do but not how to do it," Ayalon said. "We have a very clear message, and yes, there are some who call us racist or fascist, but it's simply untrue. What we're saying is that every citizen of this country should pledge allegiance to it, just like American citizens pledge allegiance to the flag, or new immigrants to America pledge an oath of allegiance before receiving citizenship. Our litmus test is not based on race or ethnicity, but loyalty to the state."
Ayalon agreed that his party had received a boost from the images seen during Operation Cast Lead, but insisted that the problems his party aimed to address had been around for much longer.
"There are some who say that we are going to radicalize the Arab population," he said. "I say, they don't need us to radicalize them. They've been radicalizing themselves for the last 30 years, and we are not going to shy away from that. I think Israelis, regular Israelis, respect that, and we will continue to insist that Israel has the right to request solidarity from its citizens, especially in a time of war."
However, Ayalon explained, Israel Beiteinu's push for solidarity isn't the only reason they're soaring in the polls.
"We have a wide-ranging platform," he said. "It is evident now, to all Israelis, that Israel Beiteinu is an all-issue party, and I think that's definitely been part of our evolution. We've also become a party for all olim, not just Russians, and the next wave of aliya that we'd like to see is from Western countries."
Ayalon, who co-headed the Nefesh B'Nefesh before entering the political arena, said his party was also focused on easing the process of aliya.
"We've drawn up plans for legislation in the next Knesset to bring more government funding to olim," he said. "We don't necessarily want more government involvement, because the bureaucracy would be too much, but more government funding to ease the process is certainly needed. We'd like to see a 50% increase in the budget for olim and a 100% rise in aliya from the States."
But the bottom line, Ayalon said, was his party's straightforwardness.
"I think Israelis are tired of the government not doing its job," he said. "All we're saying is that it's time we upheld our own laws."
| Right Wing Sees 12 Seat Advantage
The latest Haaretz-Dialog poll predicts the right-wing bloc will win 65 seats in the upcoming Knesset elections, a 12-seat advantage over the center-left, which is expected to capture just 53 of the 120 parliamentary places up for grabs.
Click here to see graph of poll results.
The right-wing bloc:
Likud (headed by Benjamin Netanyahu): 28 seats
Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel is our home" - a far-right pro-transfer party headed by Avigdor Lieberman): 15 seats
Shas (Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party headed by Eli Yishai): 10 seats
National Union-Habayit Hayehudi (coalition between two right-wing parties, the long-standing National Union and fledgling Habayit Hayehudi [the Jewish home]): 7 seats
The left-wing bloc:
Kadima (centrist party established by Ariel Sharon and now and headed by Tzipi Livni): 25 seats
Labor (headed by Ehud Barak and formerly Israel's dominant party): 14 seats
New Movemment-Meretz (latest incarnation of the left-wing Meretz): 5 seats
Hadash (Jewish-Arab party formerly known as a communist party): 3 seats
United Arab List-Ta'al (a union of two predominantly Arab parties, the United Arab list and Ahmed Tibi's Ta'al): 4 seats
Balad (predominantly Arab party whose name is a Hebrew acronym for National Democratic Assembly): 2 seats
The Pensioners' party, Gil, is projected to win two seats and has not been factored into either bloc. The poll also found that 22 percent of respondents were undecided.
| Strange Bedfellows: Survivors on Pot
Holocaust survivors' party teams up with pro-marijuana offshoot
Jan. 28, 2009
Max Socol and Shelly Paz , THE JERUSALEM POST
The Green Leaf Graduates, which split from the political party Aleh Yarok, best known for its advocacy of the legalization of cannabis, is making waves with its most recent announcement: a plan to incorporate the Holocaust Survivors Party.
The Holocaust survivors are focused on the controversial issue of their state pension disbursement, which has been weakened by rising demands among the country's retired workers.
The party accuses the government of misappropriating funds, donated by Germany, that were supposed to be given to Holocaust survivors. The survivors' party alleges that instead, those monies have been paid in part to thousands of other Israelis who have no connection to the Holocaust, to ease the government's pension burden.
Yaakov Kfir, the party's leader, said he joined forces with the Green Leaf Graduates to attract more attention to the survivors' cause.
"The fact that I am interviewed by so many media outlets indicates that the decision to hook up with the Aleh Yarok graduates was smarter than if I had chosen to go with a larger, more solid party," Kfir said on Wednesday.
"And that is a shos ['terrific' in Hebrew slang], as the youngsters taught me. The voice of the Holocaust survivors is finally being heard, and this is how I hope to get to the 350,000 Holocaust survivors and their offspring."
Kfir, a 74-year-old survivor from Petah Tikva, has campaigned for better health care for survivors for 25 years. But after a series of political defeats, he finally chose to get involved in the process directly.
"I have decided that 'if I am not for myself - who will be?' It's time we take care of ourselves, and this might be our last chance to make sure that, despite the fact we had no childhood, we at least reach old age decently and even be allowed to use medical marijuana if the need emerges," Kfir said.
Michelle Levine, a spokeswoman for the Green Leaf Graduates, voiced strong support for Kfir's cause. She described the government's failure to address the concerns of Holocaust survivors as a "national disgrace" and hoped that younger voters drawn to the party would be given additional incentive to vote in order to support the survivors' cause.
"People who would vote for the survivors right now are all older. [The survivors' party] wants to get younger people involved, like the Pensioners Party did before," said Levine, referring to the Gil Party's surprising 2006 success, which was fueled largely by disillusioned young voters.
She was forthright about the Green Leaf Graduates' intention to use support for the survivors' cause to further its own agenda of legalizing marijuana and said that the survivors had no problem with the issue.
"They say to us that at their age they don't see why [marijuana] is an issue," she continued. "They don't consider it drugs. They even have friends who have cancer or something who are ashamed to ask for a prescription. Easier access to medical marijuana is something we're fighting for."
But despite the Green Leaf Graduates' electoral expectations, the new partnership has flummoxed many in the Knesset, including the major parties. Labor representative Colette Avital wondered why the Holocaust survivors' party did not join a party where it "has a better chance."
"It doesn't make too much sense to me," said Avital, speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone on Wednesday, on her way to a meeting with a group of, among others, Holocaust survivors. "The issues confronting survivors are much too serious to be mixed up with something else."
Avital claimed that survivor issues were an integral part of the Labor platform and that Labor "would be more than happy to include" the survivors' party.
"In a way it's a shame because I'm not sure they'll even be able to get in," she said. "It's a waste of votes. I haven't got a clue why they aren't talking [to Labor]."
In a statement issued earlier, Kfir painted a very different picture.
"We, the Holocaust survivors have voted time after time for the same people who go and betray us," he said, citing a broad feeling among survivors that their concerns are not being taken seriously by mainstream political parties.
"This is why I have decided to turn to the young voters and to convince them to vote for us, so we - their grandparents - get what we deserve: full medical treatments and nursing, if we need it."
| How Parties are Selling Themselves
By Gil Hoffman
Rebranding is a marketing process to change the image of a product that normally takes a couple years.
Thirty-four parties began that process on Monday night, when broadcasts of political commercials commenced. But they have only two weeks before the February 10 election to pull it off.
If you believe everything on television, Kadima head Tzipi Livni is a military hero, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is a prophet, Labor chairman Ehud Barak has never lied and Shas chairman Eli Yishai is the defender of Jerusalem.
Due to decreasing interest in the election commercials, the Knesset decided to shorten the time allotted to them from three weeks to two and the three networks moved them out of prime time. Among the people who actually watched the commercials, chances are that few people changed their minds and few undecided voters learned enough to decide.
But if anyone needed help deciding who not to vote for, the parties provided an important service. Likud and Kadima gave people reasons not to vote for each other, the two religious-Zionist parties added more reasons not to vote Likud, and two parties tried to persuade people not to vote for Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
Perhaps there were three? Balad's ad was entirely in Arabic.
The only ads people will remember are ones with gimmicks, like Labor's mechanic saying that Barak can't do his job because he can't lie; Israel Beiteinu's claim that only Lieberman speaks Arabic; and the Likud's with Livni and other top Kadima leaders pretending to be Netanyahu.
But the best gimmicks were in the commercials of the small parties that have never entered the Knesset. The Israelim electoral reform party featured a man waving two pairs of white briefs and saying that voting for one of the current parties is like putting on yesterday's dirty underwear.
The Greens featured two talking cockroaches. The Green Movement had its chairman Michael Melchior hoist a broom. The Power to the Handicapped Party showed a man in a wheelchair trying unsuccessfully to get into an automatic door, while a dog had greater success.
But perhaps the most memorable commercial was that of the Green Leaf Graduates and Holocaust Survivors Party, the strange combination that resulted from the split in Green Leaf and the offer by the Holocaust Survivors Party to let the losers among the smokers run with them.
The two leaders of the party traded places for the commercial. Former Green Leaf head Ohad Shem-Tov didn't look too strange speaking in favor of more benefits for Holocaust survivors, but Holocaust Survivors Party chairman Ya'akov Kfir looked ridiculous pushing for legalized pot.
"For us, the Holocaust survivors, we have a moral obligation get this plant legalized," he said.
Now that's a brand that's really tough to buy.
| TV Ads Start & Negative is in Vogue
The pre-election atmosphere will heat up a notch on Tuesday when two weeks of nightly televised election advertisements begin on all three main channels.
Reflecting decreased interest in the commercials, the Knesset decided to shorten them from three weeks to two and the networks decided to remove them from prime time. The ads will run on Channel 10 at 6 p.m., Channel 1 at 10 p.m. and Channel 2 at 11:15.
The amount of time each of the 34 parties receives for commercials is based on how many MKs each party has in the current Knesset, so Kadima will dominate the broadcasts and new parties will barely be seen.
Negative ads attacking rival parties will dominate, especially on the first night, led by Kadima's commercials attacking Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.
At a press conference at Kadima's Petah Tikva headquarters on Monday, party strategists revealed their secret weapon for the ads: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. An ad features Olmert's weekend interview in which he declared that Labor chairman Ehud Barak was Israel's worst prime minister.
"He is mistaken," the ad says of Kadima's former leader. "Netanyahu is the worst prime minister in the history of the state."
Another anti-Netanyahu ad from Kadima depicts a polygraph machine as Netanyahu vowed to oppose the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, while a picture shows him voting in favor of the plan.
Kadima's positive ads feature party head Tzipi Livni talking about her family and former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice praising her.
"Our message is that on February 10, we will have a different kind of prime minister," Kadima strategist Reuven Adler said. "It's the last chance for people to elect a prime minister who has not failed in the position in the past."
Asked why they advised Livni to maximize her public appearances after they had Olmert and former prime minister Ariel Sharon do the opposite, Kadima strategists said it had nothing to do with the party being under pressure due to poll numbers.
"The pressure is not on us," Kadima strategist Eyal Arad said. "We know what we are doing. Livni is less known. Bibi and Barak are known, but not for good. There is thirst to hear what she has to say.
"Bibi wants to drift secretly to the Prime Minister's Office," he continued. "We see the pressure and fear in Bibi avoiding the press, while Tzipi appears at every relevant forum."
The Likud will attack Livni in its ads, but most of its commercials will be positive and will feature Netanyahu, former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon and former minister Bennie Begin.
One anti-Livni ad will portray Livni as indecisive and zigzagging - for instance, supporting the Second Lebanon War but calling it unwinnable, and calling to topple Hamas while giving them money.
The slogan "it's out of her league" is purposely read by a woman so as not to look chauvinist.
By contrast, none of Labor's ads will be negative. They will portray Defense Minister Ehud Barak as the hero of Operation Cast Lead and interview citizens who say that they sleep better at night thanks to him.
Israel Beiteinu's ads will attack Arab MKs. Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union's ads attack each other. Shas's will feature US President Barack Obama's "Yes, we can" slogan.
In Meretz-Hatnua Hahadasha ads, candidate Nitzan Horovitz drinks from a toilet to highlight the problem of water pollution.
The smaller parties will have gimmicks to attract attention. The Power to the Handicapped Party will feature disabled people having sex to prove that they are abled, while the Green Leaf Party will feature chairman Gil Kopatch smoking a joint on the grave of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
Visit the party web sites to view the ads. Links to those sites are listed under the Parties & Platforms page.
| Bibi to Obama: No Iranian Nukes
By BINYAMIN NETANYAHU
President Barack Obama's accession to the presidency is truly inspiring. Today, every American boy and girl knows that there is nothing they cannot achieve if they apply themselves. This powerful sense of hope extends well beyond America's shores as people throughout the world try to bring the same optimism to their own countries.
But Obama also takes office at a time when America confronts enormous economic and foreign policy challenges. He will have to marshal all his considerable leadership skills to address these dual challenges. He has wisely chosen to surround himself with a first-rate leadership team and, no less important, he has also inspired confidence in his countrymen in the possibility of change and in the hope of a better future.
The challenges America's new president faces are indeed immense. The acute financial crisis this past fall and the sharp slowdown of the real economy that followed it, makes a prolonged and deep recession in the United States a distinct possibility. Obama himself has already warned of the possibility of double-digit unemployment in the year ahead.
In foreign policy, Obama faces a wide array of difficult decisions, from how to responsibly withdraw from Iraq to how to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
But the outcome of one issue will prove more important to Obama's presidency than all others: Will his administration succeed in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
A nuclear-armed Iran will change the world as we know it. It will pose a direct existential threat to Israel. Equally, Iran's terror proxies, including Hezbollah and Hamas, will operate under an Iranian nuclear umbrella. Iran will move quickly to dominate the world's oil supplies and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty will be rendered meaningless.
I am convinced that Obama recognizes these dangers. When he visited Jerusalem last summer, he said that the United States cannot afford a nuclear-armed Iran. I believe that Obama is working from his first day in office to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.
LIKE AMERICA, Israel faces enormous challenges. We too are not immune from the economic turbulence sweeping the world. We also must take immediate action, including enacting sharp tax cuts and implementing bold economic reforms, to protect jobs and sustain growth.
Our security challenges are no less daunting. Hamas remains in power and will try to rearm itself with an even more deadly arsenal. Hizbullah has de facto control over Lebanon and has tripled its lethal capacity. And advancing peace with moderate Palestinians is possible, but must be done in a way that does not sacrifice Israel's security interests.
Above all else, the top priority of the next government of Israel will be to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. Iran is a regime openly pledged to our destruction, and its threats must never be dismissed lightly. Israel must immediately redouble its efforts to work with the United States and other allies to neutralize this threat.
In three weeks time, Israelis will be able to choose a leadership that can address the difficult challenges we face. I believe that my colleagues in the Likud and I can provide that leadership.
The writer is head of the opposition in the Knesset and chairman of the Likud Party.
| Kadima: Bibi is Bad for Obama
Kadima is capitalizing on Washington's new administration in its campaign for the premiership against Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu, warning that a Netanyahu government will lead to a clash between Israel and the United States.
Livni said privately on Saturday that "people forget what happened to this relationship when Bibi was prime minister, and they have to be reminded."
Livni said the visit Wednesday of Obama's new envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, was "an opportunity for Israel." The United States wants to be involved and bring about a solution to the conflict. The pressure it brings to bear will be directed at those who reject the process. Israel will have to chose whether it is on the side that promotes the process or rejects it; otherwise there will be an unavoidable rift with the United States," Livni said.
Kadima is considering using in its campaign spots excerpts from a book by Dennis Ross, special Middle East coordinator under former president Bill Clinton and expected to work with the administration as a special peace envoy. One excerpt from the book, "The Missing Peace," describes Netanyahu as insufferable and states that that after Ross and Clinton met with him, the U.S. president felt Netanyahu thought he was the power, and that the Americans were there to do his bidding.
Sources close to Netanyahu dismissed Kadima's "Obama campaign" and called it "very superficial" and indicated that Kadima was "desperate." The sources said that unlike Livni, Netanyahu had a deep understanding, developed over many years, of the American administration and its central figures.
Senior Likud figures said Livni's advisers were actually helping Netanyahu in their "Obama campaign." "Clearly the public has moved to the right after the war in Gaza, so it will also want a tough leader who will protect Israel's interests vis-a-vis the Americans," they said.
Sources close to Netanyahu say his views are much more suitable for the new administration than those of his rivals. If Netanyahu becomes prime minister, an associate said, "he will work to significantly improve the situation in the West Bank, both economically and in terms of security. In a short time under Netanyahu changes will be seen that were not seen all during the period that Livni was negotiating, so we will reach a real diplomatic solution." Meanwhile, sources close to Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak are saying they are the ones who will work best with Obama.
| Israel Beiteinu: 3rd Largest Party?
The big winner politically in the aftermath of the Gaza war has been Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu Party, polls taken since the cease-fire took effect on Sunday have found.
While Defense Minister Ehud Barak's Labor Party doubled in support at the start of the operation due to Barak's success in leading the IDF, support for Labor has remained static since then, while Israel Beiteinu has risen significantly.
A poll taken by Panels for the Knesset Channel (99) that was broadcast Monday found that Israel Beiteinu would be the third largest party with 15 seats, behind Likud with 30 and Kadima with 24. Labor received 14 seats in the poll.
An internal Kadima survey taken by pollster Kalman Geyer reportedly also predicted that Israel Beiteinu would win 15 seats and Labor 14. The Likud leads Kadima by a smaller margin in that poll.
A Dialog poll broadcast Sunday night on Channel 10 found that Israel Beiteinu and Labor were tied at 14 mandates. A Ma'agar Mohot poll broadcast the same night on Channel 2 gave Labor a two-seat lead, 15 to 13.
Israel Beiteinu officials said their own internal polls found the party getting 15 seats, but that the data revealed that Israel Beiteinu voters were among the most loyal and intense, and therefore the party could win two or three more seats, especially if voter turnout was lower than expected.
The officials said the party's rise in support actually began before the war began on December 27, but it intensified as a result of anti-Israel demonstrations during the operation in universities and Arab towns.
There were calls of "death to Israel" at the protests and the mayor of Sakhnin, who receives an NIS 27,000 monthly salary from the state, said he would be "honored to be a shahid in Jerusalem."
"Such vocal protests supporting Hamas while our soldiers were in Gaza made people realize that it's stupid to give benefits to people who support terrorist groups that are trying to kill our soldiers," an Israel Beiteinu official said. "People said, 'Enough is enough,' and only Lieberman was addressing that issue. While other leaders were out of touch on this issue, Lieberman captured the people's voice."
To capitalize on the anti-Arab sentiment, Israel Beiteinu's television, radio and Internet ads will highlight anti-Israel quotes from Arab MKs. Israel Beiteinu has also led the effort to ban Balad from running for Knesset.
The polls have found that the party that lost the most as a result of the operation has been Meretz. The party lost momentum it received at the start of the election campaign when it joined together with a new leftist movement.
Not only did voters across the political spectrum shift to the Right during the war, but much of Labor's rise came at Meretz's expense.
Elections in high schools following candidates' debates, which are often seen as a bellwether for elections, have found that the rightward shift is especially strong among young people.
Meretz will hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday in which a new slogan and jingle will be revealed in an effort to regain its lost momentum.
| Post War Poll Shows Strong Likud
he first poll conducted about Israel's upcoming parliamentary elections since the end of the offensive in Gaza show Likud as the front-runner with 29 seats.
The Channel 10-Dialog poll supervised by Tel Aviv University predicted Likud in the lead with 29 seats, Kadima with 26 and the Labor Party getting 14 seats, the same number as Yisrael Beiteinu.
Though surveys on Sunday predicted center-left Labor would win 14 or 15 of the 120 seats in parliament - almost double that previously forecast - former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party was still in the lead.
A similar poll conducted by Channel 2 has Likud set to win as many as 31 seats, with Kadima party taking between 23 and 26, with the February 10 elections just about three weeks away.
Kadima's popularity has been hit by public discontent over the 2005 Gaza pullout it led and corruption scandals that forced Ehud Olmert to resign as the party's leader and prime minister.
Olmert has been serving as caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed after next month's election.
Israeli public support for the offensive, launched on Dec. 27 to counter Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza, has been strong, though Hamas continued with its salvoes during the air and ground operation.
Netanyahu has been a favorite in polls since Israel's 2006 Lebanon war against Hezbollah guerrillas, a conflict widely regarded in Israel as a failure.
| Will Elections Be Delayed?
Knesset members from across the political spectrum intensified speculation on Tuesday about whether the February 10 general election would have to be delayed due to Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
MKs from all the parties have been consulting in recent days and have come to the conclusion that it is still too early to publicly call for a delay.
But there seemed to be a consensus that if the operation continued beyond the middle of next week, a delay would have to be considered.
So far, the only MKs who have spoken openly in favor of postponing the balloting have been Pensioners Party chairman Rafi Eitan and former Pensioners MK Elhanan Glazer, who is running with the Tzomet Party.
However, many other MKs said privately that if large swaths of the South remained under fire, holding the election would be impossible.
"I think we won't have a choice but to delay the race unless [the operations] end very soon," one MK said. "But I can't speak about it on the record, because I don't want to look weak. Talking politics during a war is not politically correct. And I don't want to show a lack of confidence in the IDF or in myself."
MKs and party spokesmen seemed to agree that the ongoing escalation gave an advantage to Labor and Kadima, whose leaders are at the forefront of the decision-making, and the Likud, because party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has made an effort to remain in the public eye.
They said the parties hurt most by the operation were the smaller and newer parties, and those focusing on a nonmilitary agenda. Such parties have been harmed by the media's complete focus on the war and the inability to run a political campaign when the country is under fire.
Netanyahu came out strongly against a delay when he told reporters in the South on Monday that he would see holding the election on time as an indication that Israel had won the war.
"Something very extreme would have to happen to delay the election," Netanyahu said. "It would be a victory for Hamas if they succeed in interfering with Israeli democracy."
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said it was unfair to parties like Meretz that due to the war, "the foreign minister, defense minister and opposition leader are always in the camera frame."
Meretz has lost seats to Labor in every poll taken since the operations in Gaza began.
A Shas spokesman said he was fighting an uphill battle to keep party chairman Eli Yishai in the public eye in what he called a "back-door campaign."
He said that had the party been in the opposition, the task would have been impossible. Shas had intended to embark on a negative campaign criticizing Likud's and Kadima's handling of the economy, but postponed it due to the fighting.
"If the operation intensifies, there will be no choice but to delay the election by at least a month," Yishai said in an interview with a haredi news service.
Officials in the Bayit Hayehudi Party admitted that they were in a tougher predicament because their party name was new and its list was only finalized last Sunday, the day after the war began.
"The war hasn't helped our effort to enter the public consciousness," a party official said. "We realize that's a big problem."
Meimad, which is running together with the Green Movement, is at a disadvantage on three fronts - it is small, the Green Movement is running for the first time, and the party focuses on the environment and not security.
But party officials expressed confidence that they would still enter the Knesset because of list leader Rabbi Michael Melchior's name and the importance of environmental issues.
"It is unethical to campaign during a war, but it is undemocratic not to allow the public to hear what the parties stand for before they vote," a party official said. "The focus on Gaza harms all the parties, because it takes away the public's right to make an informed decision. We just have to trust that the public is intelligent and still seeks a civilian agenda."
Asked why his party was not publicly calling for delaying the election, the official responded, "We don't want to be seen as whiners."
Source: Jpost.com This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1231167284864&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull
| UPDATE: War in Gaza
Shalom from Israel,
As you know, Israel is currently involved in a defensive war against the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza. At this time it is particularly important to remember that Israel handed over the entire Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in the summer of 2005. This was a risky move, but it was designed to jumpstart the peace process and illustrates the depth of Israel's willingness to live in peace with its neighbors.
Yet, instead of painstakingly building their own nation in Gaza, Hamas has spent the past 3.5 years trying to destroy our state. They have shot over 10,000 missiles into Israel, conducted cross-border raids, sent suicide bombers into our cities and kidnapped one of our soldiers, Gilad Shalit, who has now been captive for well over 900 days.
Last week, Israel decided to put an end to the rocket attacks that can reach 900,000 --- nearly 13% -- of its citizens. And now, the Israeli army has launched a ground offensive with the goal of rooting out Hamas and destroying the infrastructure of terror that they have developed during their reign.
We hope and pray that the effort is fully successful and that all of our soldiers return home safely.
Eric Esses & Michael Eglash
Upstart Ideas | IsraelVotes.com
| Gaza Op Boosts Barak's Popularity
The Labor Party has emerged the biggest political winner of the war against Hamas so far.
Labor and its head, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have made significant gains, bringing the left-wing to a 60:60 draw against right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Just a week ago, before the offensive, the Haaretz-Dialog public opinion poll gave the right bloc 65 MKs and the left 53 plus two for the Pensioners. While Likud actually gained support in the past week, it came at the expense of other right-wing parties.
Labor, on the other hand, is mostly pulling votes away from parties such as the Pensioners, Meretz and the various environmentalist parties.
A decisive majority of respondents support continuing the army's air campaign against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip without endangering the lives of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in a ground offensive.
Only about 20 percent of respondents support expanding the operation into a ground campaign - about the same proportion that supports an immediate cease-fire.
According to the survey, conducted Wednesday under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, if the Knesset elections were to be held today both of the main blocs would find it hard to form a government unless one of the parties were to defect to the rival side.
Just five days into the war, though, Israeli casualties have been minimal and there is an overall sense that the operation is a military success.
Experience teaches that the poll numbers could change very quickly with any complication in the fighting. During the first week of the Second Lebanon War, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then defense minister Amir Peretz enjoyed unprecedented popularity ratings of 75 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Two months later those ratings fell by about 90 percent.
As expected, Barak and Labor are the main beneficiaries of the war, for now. The latest poll has added 5 Knesset seats to Labor. Likud and Kadima gained two and one MK, respectively.
At this stage the war bodes well for the three leading parties. Most of the public reportedly believes that in time of war it's best to vote for parties whose candidates are experienced, such as former chiefs of staff, prime ministers and defense and foreign ministers.
Barak's personal fortunes improved sharply, with 53 percent of poll respondents expressing satisfaction with his performance (compared to just 34 percent about six months ago). A larger number, 38 percent, are dissatisfied with him but that is nevertheless a significant improvement over the 52 percent disapproval rating of six months ago.
Olmert, too, has gotten a popularity boost, with a 33 percent popularity rating this week compared to an average of 14 percent since the Second Lebanon War, about two and a half years ago.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu are also getting good grades from the public for their performances in recent days.
As reported in www.haaretz.com
| Political Stakes are High in Gaza War
The decision to move forcefully against the Hamas rocket fire that has rained down on communities and cities in southern Israel for years is likely to shake up Israel's political scene as elections approach.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima has the least to lose since it was his resignation in September that brought about early elections in the first place. His personal political goal in this conflict -- aside from ensuring that Hamas is significantly weakened -- is to rectify his much criticized leadership and to leave a more positive poltical legacy.
In contrast, Foreign Minister and Kadima head Tzipi Livni as well as Defense Minister and Labor chairman Ehud Barak are putting their political lives on the line in their management of this war. Livni will need to prove that she is a confident and determined wartime leader. Ehud Barak, whose personal war credentials are impeccable, will be trying to prove that his Labor party is relevant once again.
A clear Israeli victory that leads to positive diplomatic efforts will significanly help both leaders' political fortunes. A less positive outcome will spell political disaster for these two leaders.
| Lists Offer Insight to Expected Results
As the major parties complete their primaries, the lists that each party publishes appears to offer insight into the number of seats each party expects -- or would like -- to capture in the upcoming eletions.
For example, the polls are currently predicting a strong showing for Likud and a weak showing for Labor. Likewise the Likud has published a list of the top 40 candidates standing for elections while Labor has published only their top 20. Kadima, perhaps hoping to at least maintain the 29 seats currently held, has published its top 29 contenders.
| Likud Chooses New Leadership
Despite problems with its computer voting system and long lines at polling stations, the Likud Party finally announced the official results of its primary and Likud faction chair Gideon Sa'ar won the second spot on the party's Knesset list after Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu. Bennie Begin, the former science minister and son of the late PM Menachem Begin claimed the fifth place.
Some 50,000 Likud members cast votes in the primaries. The first 30 spots on the list are:
1) Binyamin Netanyahu
2) Gideon Sa'ar
3) Gilad Erdan
4) Reuven Rivlin
5) Bennie Begin
6) Moshe Kahlon
7) Silvan Shalom
8) Moshe Ya'alon
9) Yuval Steinitz
10) Leah Nass
11) Yisrael Katz
12) Yuli Edelstein
13) Limor Livnat
14) Haim Katz
16) Michael Eitan
17) Dan Meridor
18) Tzipi Hotobeli
19) Gila Gamliel
20) Moshe Feiglin
21) Ze'ev Elkin
22) Yariv Levine
23) Tzion Piyan
24) Michael Ratzon
25) Ayoub Kara
26) Danny Dannon
27) Carmel Shama
28) Ophir Akoonis
29) Ehud Yatom
30) Alali Adamso
| Labor's Leadership Lineup
Early Friday morning, with the results in, Labor's voters could be seen to have chosen a kind of still-life of what had been. The top places - except for former journalist Daniel Ben-Simon, in 11th place, and Dr. Einat Wilf in 14th place, not likely to get into the Knesset - are the same faces; some had moved up the list, some down.
The most prominent switch was between Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz. He closed the top 10, she was in slot five. From now on, Yachimovich is not only the top-ranking woman in Labor, she is also the leader of the party's social agenda, two and a half years after she was brought in by her patron at the time, Peretz.
The voters wanted a young leadership, and therefore they chose Herzog, Ophir Pines-Paz and Yachimovich. They wanted an important economist, so they voted Avishay Braverman. They wanted experienced ministers and so they retained Ben-Eliezer, Matan Vilnai, and Yuli Tamir, together with Shalom Simhon.
Herzog maintained first place for the second time in a row, after the chairman - a significant achievement that no one had managed before. At the next primary for party leader he will not make do with supporting a candidate. He will be a candidate. "I'm not a nice child any longer," he says.
| Labor voters hit polls for 2nd time
Labor members started voting for their party's Knesset list Thursday, after Tuesday's attempt at electronic voting had to be called off after three hours, due to technical failures.
Thousands of Laborites voted early Tuesday before the vote was canceled.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of members received a recorded telephone message from party general-secretary MK Eitan Cabel that included an apology and a request to go to the polling booths again.
"We are all obligated to maintain clean and transparent elections. I apologize to each one of you for the failure that damaged us all so badly," Cabel said.
Officials said they were not worried that people who had already voted would fail show up a second time.
Thursday's second round is being conducted with old-fashioned manual voting.
Each one of Labor's 59,039 members will be asked to choose at least five, but no more than eight, Knesset candidates running on the national list, as well as to select their preferred candidate for each of the slots reserved for specific sectors, such as the "neighborhoods," immigrants, the kibbutzim, moshavim, geographic districts, Arabs and Druse.
The party is spending approximately NIS 500,000 on supervision in an attempt to reduce fraud or other irregularities. A private company has been hired for this purpose and its representatives will be monitoring the 195 polling booths.
The polls will be open from noon to 10 p.m. Voters have been assigned polling stations and will receive voice messages explaining where they should vote. Initial results and turnout rates are due by midnight.
| New Poll: Labor Crashes, Likud Wins
According to a poll published on Monday and conducted by 'Panels Ltd.' for Channel 2, were elections held today, Labor, headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, would crash to only 6 Knesset seat. Labor won 19 seats in the last election.
According to the new poll, the Likud would gain 33 seats as opposed to Kadima's 25.
The poll finds that Labor would be replaced as the largest party on the Left by Meretz - predicted to receive seven seats. United Torah Judaism and the Green Party would both get four seats, according to the poll.
The poll gave Shas 12 seats, Israel Beiteinu 11, the Arab parties 10 and the new Right-wing party Habayit Hayehudi 7.
| Israel Heading to New Elections!
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni was unable to assemble a ruling coalition of 61 Members of Knesset and therefore Israel is heading to national elections. Livni, who succeeded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as Kadima's leader after he resigned in September, will be up against Labor's Ehud Barak and Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu.