Last Polls Before Israeli Election Show Netanyahu's Lead Shrinking

Israeli voters will elect a new parliament on Tuesday. While Benjamin Netanyahu will likely return to the premiership, analysts wonder what sort of coalition he will form. Polls indicate he may be pushed strongly to the right, which would complicate any efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. In Israel, the latest polls before Tuesday's parliamentary election show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's lead is shrinking. While Netanyahu's Likud Party is still expected to form the next government, his party could be weakened and forced to seek support from parties it doesn't see eye to eye with. And as NPR's Larry Abramson reports from Jerusalem, there are already signs Israel's government will be pushed significantly to the right.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: The man who is stealing votes from Benjamin Netanyahu gets whoops and hollers when introduced at debates in Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Naftali Bennett is head of the Bayit Yehudi or Jewish Home Party.

ABRAMSON: Naftali Bennett is sucking voters away from Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu alliance. He's doing it with a no nonsense speaking style and a clear message that he says sets him apart from the major parties.

NAFTALI BENNETT: The Likuds, the Yesh Atid, et cetera, all support establishing a Palestinian state within the land of Israel. I vehemently oppose it. I think it would...

ABRAMSON: Netanyahu has said he supports a two-state solution, although many peace activists blame him for a yearlong stalemate in negotiations. For many voters, that difference alone makes Bennett a useful tool for keeping Netanyahu on a rightward track.

GLADYS CARLIN: I want a check on him. I think he gets into office and he goes a little far to the left.

ABRAMSON: Voter Gladys Carlin says Naftali Bennett understands who's to blame for the failure to find peace with the Palestinians.

CARLIN: It's the Arabs who won't come to the table and it's the Arabs who really hate us and don't want to make peace. And nobody seems to get that.

ABRAMSON: Some analysts here question whether the electorate really has shifted opinion on the peace process. A majority of Israelis now support a two-state solution. But there are signs that whatever voters believe, the party slates this time around has slid right. David Horovitz, founder of The Times of Israel, says the ruling Likud party has pushed out its more moderate representatives in favor of the extreme right-wingers.

DAVID HOROVITZ: Netanyahu, by virtue of his support in principle for Palestinian statehood, is now one of the most moderate politicians there.

ABRAMSON: During the campaign, Netanyahu has focused on security, visiting troops at the Syrian border or near the Gaza Strip. He has also tried to burnish his credentials with the right by evicting Palestinian demonstrators who protested controversial plans to expand settlements in occupied territory near Jerusalem.

This week, he faced reports that President Obama views Netanyahu as a coward who doesn't know what is in Israel's best interests.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Foreign language spoken)

ABRAMSON: The citizens of Israel are the only ones who will decide who loyally represents the vital interests of the state of Israel, Netanyahu said in response. Opponents on the left seized on the reported Obama statement as another sign that Israel is becoming internationally isolated. At a debate on foreign affairs, Labor's Yitzhak Herzog said both Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett stand for the same thing.

YITZHAK HERZOG: Is total isolation and further international failures as we have seen in the U.N. vote.

ABRAMSON: Referring to the United Nations vote in November to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority over Israel's strong objections. But those assaults against Netanyahu from Labor and other center or left-wing parties may have a limited impact. The left tried and failed to form a united front against Netanyahu. Netanyahu's best hope is the huge number of undecided voters still out there.

If they swing his way, he won't have to swing as far to the right or to the left to form a new government. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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