Aron Heller
The Associated Press
November 19, 2008 - 8:00pm

A pair of polls published Thursday showed opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline Likud party leading Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's moderate Kadima party in the run-up to Israel's Feb. 10 elections.

The polls also indicated strong support for Netanyahu's hard-line allies. If that support stands through the elections, it would position Netanyahu to put together a hawkish coalition that would likely end peace talks with the Palestinians, at least in their current form.

Netanyahu believes the U.S.-backed talks, which aim to establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, have been a failure and thinks negotiations should largely be limited to developing the Palestinian economy. Livni, who has been Israel's chief negotiator the past year, wants to continue the talks.

Elections were set into motion in September when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned amid corruption charges and his deputy, Livni, was unable to form a coalition government of her own. The vote comes a year and a half ahead of schedule.

Just weeks ago, polls showed Livni and Netanyahu in a tight race. While Livni has been relatively out of sight in recent weeks, Netanyahu has been front and center adding a slew of high-profile new recruits to his party, including a former military chief and retired politicians with reputations for honesty.

A poll published in the Haaretz daily on Thursday showed Likud garnering 34 seats in the 120-seat parliament, up from its current 12, followed by Kadima with 28. Kadima, the ruling party, currently has 29 seats.

The poll forecast the once-dominant Labor, headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, winning just 10 seats. The poll, conducted by the Dialog agency, surveyed 488 people and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

A poll in the Yediot Ahronot daily had similar results, forecasting 32 seats for Likud, compared with Kadima's 26. It said Labor would receive just eight seats, making it just the fifth-largest party. The Dahaf Research Institute poll of 500 people had a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

A Netanyahu victory would have deep implications for the U.S.-backed peace process.

The Palestinians want all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, with east Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured both areas in the 1967 war. They also say Palestinians who were made refugees following Israel's establishment in 1948, and their descendants, should be allowed to return to lost properties.

Livni, who has been Israel's chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians over the past year, says Israel must find a settlement to all outstanding issues, including borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.

Netanyahu wants to keep large parts of the West Bank and rejects the return of any refugees or division of Jerusalem. The Palestinians already have said his plan for "economic peace" is unacceptable if it ignores the other core issues of the conflict.

Thursday's polls also showed increased power for other hawkish parties, which would allow Netanyahu to easily form a right-wing coalition government. A victory for Likud would mark a stunning rebound for a party that looked to be on the verge of irrelevance after the 2006 elections.

That status may now belong the once-proud Labor party, which controlled Israeli politics for its first 30 years.

Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog of Labor said the party should not be written off just yet.

"People are trying to finish us off," he told Israel's Army Radio. "But I am telling you that announcing the death of the Labor party is like announcing the end of the Democratic party in the United States."


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