Peace plans, Obama put squeeze on Netanyahu
Defiant ... Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to international pressure by approving homes in the West Bank. Photo: Getty Images
JERUSALEM: Israel is entering the final phase of its election campaign with an increasingly rocky relationship with the US and under pressure from France and Britain, who are reportedly working behind the scenes to revive the moribund peace process with the Palestinians.
Just days before Tuesday's poll, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has had to contend with comments attributed to the US President, Barak Obama, that suggest he believes Mr Netanyahu is leading Israel to international isolation with his settlement construction plan.
Mr Obama's statements, in a commentary piece on Bloomberg, which were not denied by the White House, have prompted a flurry of commentary in the Israeli press, noting Mr Netanyahu appeared to have responded with an announcement of yet more settlement construction.
The Netanyahu government has responded to what it has deemed ''provocations'' from the Palestinians with more settlement building approvals.
Israel's relationship with the US should be high on the mind of Mr Netanyahu when he forms his new coalition following the election, said Eytan Gilboa from the BESA Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv.
''If John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are confirmed as secretary of state and defence secretary - and I think they will be - that could mean certain additional difficulties for Netanyahu,'' Professor Gilboa said, noting both were less supportive of military action against Iran's nuclear program than Israel. ''There are better coalitions to deal with foreign affairs and Iran and better coalitions to deal with social justice. [Mr Netanyahu] will have to decide what his No.1 priority is. I am arguing Iran is the No.1 issue, so he needs at least one centrist party in his coalition.''
Yair Lapid, from the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Tzipi Livni, from the newly formed Hatnua party, have indicated they may join a Netanyahu coalition, principally to constrain him. Naftali Bennett, the leader of the popular far-right Jewish Home party, has said much the same.
''So, in fact, there is a competition between the far right and the centre about who is going to put the brakes on Netanyahu - I cannot recall this happening in Israel before,'' Professor Gilboa said.
The final opinion poll before election day, published on Friday, shows the right wing's majority falling away, with 63 seats predicted for the right's bloc and 57 for the centre, left and Arab bloc, Haaretz reported.
Mr Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu party suffered the most, dropping to just 32 seats, with Labor steady on 17 seats and the Jewish Home party continuing to poll at 14 seats. The right-wing Shas is predicted to win 12 seats, while the centrist Yesh Atid also sits at 12. The poll of 712 respondents, conducted by the Dialog Institute, found 15 per cent of voters remained undecided.
Meanwhile, the French President, Francois Hollande, has reportedly confirmed to Ma'ariv that France was in the process of drafting an initiative that was designed to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The proposal - believed to include negotiations based on pre-1967 borders with possible land swaps - would push for all core issues to be resolved by the end of the year. It would require a freeze on building in the settlements, a demand Mr Netanyahu has consistently rejected.