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Future Tenuous for Bibi as Israelis Flock to Polls

Strong turnout expected, particularly among Arab Israelis, who hope to boot the conservative Likud party from power

 Ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on his Facebook page that Arab voters are expected to come out in "droves." (Photo: Oliver Weiken/AFP)

 Ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on his Facebook page that Arab voters are expected to come out in "droves." (Photo: Oliver Weiken/AFP)

Israelis are heading to the polls on Tuesday in what is considered a hotly contested vote that threatens to unseat current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the lead up to the general election, polls indicated that Netanyahu's conservative Likud party trailed the center-left Zionist Union by three parliamentary seats. Israel has a parliamentary system, which means that citizens vote for parties rather than individuals.

Ahead of the vote, Netanyahu's primary challenger Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union, said that Israelis face a choice "between change and hope, and despair and disappointment."

By 10 AM, turnout was reportedly 20 percent higher than in the 2013 elections, McClatchy reported.

Israel's Palestinian population has become particularly "energized" around this election, the New York Times reported on Monday, finding renewed purpose after last summer's protests of the War on Gaza coupled with the possibility of preventing Netanyahu from gaining a ruling coalition.

On Monday, Netanyahu confirmed that should he be elected to power again, an independent Palestinian state would not be established.

On Tuesday, Haaretz, which has a live blog as the day unfolds, reported "long lines outside polling stations in Arab villages and towns."

Polls show the Arab alliance in a tie for the third largest party in Parliament, with 12 of 120 seats. Unlike his predecessors who refused to join a governing coalition, Arab leader Ayman Odeh has said he would support Herzog in an effort to oust Netanyahu.

Amal Jamal, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, told the Times that "there’s a feeling that the Israeli reality is changing, and that the united Arab list can change the political map in Israel, and so from that, there’s optimism."

Regarding the peace process with Palestine, Herzog has expressed support for a two-state solution but has also said Israel territory would include settlements on occupied land.

Journalist Jonathan Cook, reporting from Nazareth on the Israeli election, writes: "In one sense, everything is up for grabs: this election could result either in another right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu or in victory for a coalition of centrist parties distinguished chiefly by their hostility towards Mr. Netanyahu."

"Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: the next government will be no more willing or able to make peace with the Palestinians than its recent predecessors," Cook adds.

Despite the international implications of the vote, observers say that most of Israeli votes boil down to dissatisfaction with economic and domestic issues.

McClatchy reports:

Two reports last month by Israel’s state comptroller proved particularly damaging to Netanyahu’s campaign.

One documented exorbitant spending of public funds on food, cleaning and other services at the prime minister’s residences in Jerusalem and the posh coastal town of Caesaria. 

The second cited a steep rise in housing prices on Netanyahu’s watch, a pressing concern of many Israelis unable to afford an apartment. 

[...] After the housing report, Netanyahu issued a response that many saw as startlingly out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Israelis. "When we talk about housing prices, about the cost of living, I don’t for a minute forget life itself," he said. "The greatest challenge to our life now is Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons." The comments were widely ridiculed on social media.

Election updates are available via Twitter.

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