JERUSALEM: Israelis voted on Tuesday in an election expected to be a close-fought battle between the centre left and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ruled out a Palestinian state in a last-ditch appeal to the right.
The outcome of the race, in which opinion polls suggest Netanyahu will win fewer seats than the center-left Zionist Union, is likely to help determine the prospects for new Middle East peace talks and Israel’s troubled relations with its US ally.
Around six million voters are eligible to take part in the election for Israel’s 120 members of parliament.
Polls close at 10 p.m. (8 p.m. Manila time) with exit polls by Israel’s main media outlets set to give the first indications of the likely outcome minutes afterwards.
Netanyahu brought the election on himself, calling the snap vote after firing centrist ministers from his fractious coalition just two years into its term.
It will be Israel’s third election since 2009 and the biggest challenge yet for the 65-year-old incumbent, who is seeking a third consecutive term.
Final opinion polls published on Friday gave the Zionist Union of Labor leader Isaac Herzog a three to four seat lead over Netanyahu’s Likud party.
But the surveys also suggested Netanyahu will have an advantage when it comes to piecing together a coalition with smaller allies from the right.
As he cast his own ballot on Tuesday, Netanyahu ruled out any alliance with Herzog.
“There will not be a unity government with Labour. I will form a national [rightwing]government,” he said.
Netanyahu has warned a vote for the Zionist Union could endanger Israel’s security and lead to the division of Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the annexed eastern sector.