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Israel Votes
Israeli voters air views on polls
More than two million Israelis are eligible to vote in next week's close-run poll.
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2009 19:07 GMT

Israel's recent offensive in the Gaza Strip has overshadowed the election

With Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister and a hopeful in the race to become the country's next prime minister, hitting the dance floor of a local night club in a bid to impress her nation's youth, it is clear election campaigning is fully under way.

More than two million registered Israeli voters will be casting their ballots at more than 9,000 polling stations across the country on February 10.

But with the elections overshadowed by Israel's recently concluded 22-day offensive on Gaza, the electorate is in a sombre mood.

"I will be voting for nobody. They don't do anything," one young Israeli girl told Al Jazeera.

Welfare issues

But then, lighting a cigarette, she thought slightly better of it.

"If I do vote, I will vote for Shas. They also don't do anything, but I don't have a better choice," she said.

Levvit said he would vote for
Likud on security grounds

Shas, a religious party, campaigns heavily on social welfare issues.

The elections have come about in part because Shas have demanded greater social welfare payments from the government.

Livni had tried to include Shas in a coalition government after Ehud Olmert, her predecessor as leader of Kadima, stepped down.

But she refused to commit to the $270m social spending increase Shas demanded.

Consequently the religious party withdrew its support from her proposed coalition, prompting the elections.

But that was last year, and more recently Israel's offensive on Gaza, which ended on January 21, has meant that social and economic initiatives have largely been overshadowed.

Security concerns

Grisha Levit, a Russian who only received his Israeli citizenship last year, said he would vote for Likud because his concerns over national security.

"Israel is a very small country and you can really affect the situation, so I would vote for Likud because now the situation is difficult and Israel needs some strong measures," he told Al Jazeera.

Likud, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader and a former prime minister, is tipped by opinion polls to win, meaning Israel's next government is set to be a right-wing coalition.

David Cohen, who runs a grocery store with his wife, also said he would be voting for Likud.

"The elections are very important. I'll be voting for Netanyahu, from Likud. I think he's already proved himself. When he was prime minister he was very good - the economy was good and security was good too," he said.

"I think he knows what he's doing with the economy and the security."

Kidnap victims

Outside the prime minister's residence, a small group of demonstrators hold a daily vigil for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in a cross-border raid by Palestinian fighters in June 2006.

Rath is campaigning daily outside the prime minister's house for Shalit's release

Israelis have heard little about Shalit since then and the demonstrators feel he, and others like him including Ron Arad, an airman captured when he ejected from his aircraft over Lebanon in 1986, are far from the minds of the politicians.

A sign next to the demonstrators marks the number of days Shalit has been missing.

"This time I'll vote for Rabbi [Michael] Melchior. He's from the Green Party," said Miriam Rath, the demonstration leader for the day.

Melchior had headed a religious party that is now in alliance with The Green Movement, one of two "green" parties running in the elections.

"Ecology is their main thing and they want to separate religion from politics - he's a rabbi and he says that it is better to separate [them]," Miriam said.

And what will the Green Party do about Shalit?

"I've asked them," she said. "But they haven't answered me."

Non-voters

Crossing into East Jerusalem, home to much of Jerusalem's Arab population, the scene is rather different. Not least the absence of campaign materials.

Most of East Jerusalem's residents will not be voting in the elections.

After Israel annexed the whole of the city in 1967, most of those living in the East refused Israeli citizenship, saying that they would only vote when Jerusalem became the capital of a Palestinian state.

Consequently, the majority of East Jerusalem's population vote instead in the Palestinian Authority's elections.

"Israel has been here 45 years and they are still grinding us," Tony, an Arab Christian who runs a sweet shop, and who did not want to give his last name, said.

"The people change, but the politics stay the same."

He might even have added that sometimes the people also stay the same.

Netanyahu held the premiership between 1996 and 1999 and Ehud Barak, the current defence minister who is also in the running, is also a previous prime minister.

In total, Arab's make up about 19 per cent of Israel's population, but the election seems largely irrelevant to many.

'Nothing will change'

Abna el-Balad, a secular Palestinian movement, is encouraging Arabs to boycott the polls this year.

Cohen believes that Netanyahu's experience means he can lead the country again
Generally the feeling among Jerusalem's Arabs is that whoever wins the election, "nothing will change" and ultimately, the chances of an Arab party agreeing to be part of a ruling coalition that bombs Gaza are remote indeed.

"Many times it's the right [that comes to power], and sometimes it's the left. It doesn't matter, it's always the same," Imad Muna, who runs a bookshop in East Jerusalem, said.

Ziad Muna, Imad's brother, leaned across the bookshop counter.

"It's exactly like the American elections," he said. "It will affect us, but we can't do anything about it."

Source:
Al Jazeera
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