Israel: Netanyahu unrivaled ahead of January 22 elections

Premier key figure. Contenders and future alliances in the mix.

18 January, 21:28

The portraits of premier Netanyahu and of Labourist Shelly Yachimovich overlap on a revolving advertisement space The portraits of premier Netanyahu and of Labourist Shelly Yachimovich overlap on a revolving advertisement space

(ANSAmed) - TEL AVIV - In spite of a recent drop in opinion polls for his joint ticket with resigning Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is under investigation on corruption charges, Premier Benjamin Netanyahu remains the key figure in the January 22 elections.

What is not a given is what alliances Netanyahu might have to forge in the post-electoral Knesset, or Israeli parliament.

Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich, who wants to steer the country towards a more markedly social-democratic agenda, is second in the polls. With a state deficit that doubled in 2012 to 39 billion shekels (approximately 40 billion euros), Yachimovich criticized Netanyahu for ignoring Israel's growing economic crisis and the needs of citizens, who have been protesting in recent months.

Yachimovich also attacked the premier on foreign policy, accusing him of isolating Israel by continuing his settlement expansion policy after the recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN, by not building bridges with US President Barack Obama and by allowing the peace process, which has been stalled since September 2010, to languish.

Media and pundits point to two new faces: former military officer, software tycoon and free market champion Naftali Bennett, from the religious nationalist Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Hearth) party, and center-left renowned former journalist Yair Lapid from Yesh Atid (There is a Future), campaigning on a moderate reform platform with a more open foreign policy. Lapid advocates extending military service to yeshiva students, and social issues such as housing. Another contender is former foreign minister under Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, who founded the Hatnua (Movement) party with the declared objective of gathering centrist forces. Among its recruits are former Labor defense minister Amir Peretz and some members of his former party, Kadima (Forward). Now led by Shaul Mofaz, Kadima appears to be losing ground. Charismatic and well-liked internationally, Livni opposes Netanyahu on foreign policy, on the settlements, and on the lack of dialogue with Palestinians. (ANSAmed).

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