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Israeli PM in plea to voters

Date

Robert Tait, Jerusalem

Challenger: Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, visits  the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Monday.

Challenger: Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Monday. Photo: Getty Images


BENJAMIN Netanyahu has issued a last-ditch plea to disaffected Israeli voters to ‘‘come home’’ amid fears that rising support for a Right-wing rival could lead to the election of an ‘‘extremist’’ government hostile to peace efforts.

‘‘I have no doubt that many, many people will decide at the last minute to come home to Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu,’’ Israel’s prime minister said in Jerusalem on his final campaign stop before today’s general election.

‘‘I appeal to each and every citizen going to the ballot box: ‘Decide for whom you are going to vote - for a divided and weak Israel or for a united and strong Israel and a large governing party’.’’

The appeal followed weeks of rising support for Naftali Bennett’s pro-settler Jewish Home party and reflected concern that Mr Netanyahu could be forced to form a government with radical fringe figures that could push Israel into international isolation.

That fear intensified yesterday after a leading Jewish Home candidate said the party would try to return Jewish settlers to Gaza if it became part of the government.

Hillel Horowitz, a rabbi in the hardline Jewish settlement community in Hebron, said it would push for the re-establishment of settlements evacuated in 2005 under then prime minister Ariel Sharon.

‘‘We will do everything we can to work to return the people of Israel to Homesh in northern Samaria [in the occupied West Bank] and to Gush Katif [a former Gaza Strip settlement],’’ an Israeli website, Kipa, quoted Rabbi Horowitz as telling a meeting. ‘‘We will take action to bring about Israel’s annexation of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].’’

Rabbi Horowitz is expected to be elected to the Knesset, with polls showing Jewish Home on course for up to 15 seats.

His comments drew accusations of extremism and undermined Mr Bennett’s attempts to portray his party as a mainstream grouping interested in bread-and-butter issues rather than radical stances.

‘‘There are not 15 Bennetts,’’ said Yoel Hasson of the centrist HaTnua party, led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni. ‘‘Behind Bennett’s charismatic smile, there is an extremist, delusional gang who will bring about their share of extremist acts that will harm our democracy.’’

Mr Bennett is seeking to join a coalition expected to be headed by Mr Netanyahu, whom he once served as chief of staff.

Opinion polls have projected the prime minister’s Likud Beiteinu bloc to win between 32 and 35 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, down from 42 and an outcome that could weaken Mr Netanyahu.

Telegraph, London

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