Opinion polls predict that the centrist Kadima party will win 34 seats on Tuesday, enough to form a governing coalition in the 120-seat Knesset or parliament. Kadima was founded last year by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister who suffered a stroke and went into a coma in January this year.
For Ehud Olmert, the interim prime minister, a win would represent a vote of confidence in "consolidation", his term for unilateral steps to set Israel's frontier by 2010 through the removal of remote West Bank settlements and the strengthening of bigger enclaves. Palestinians see the plan as an attempt to deny them a viable state and annex land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
But Olmert says it would be a last resort in the continued absence of progress along a US-backed peace road map. Voting booths open in Israel at 7am (0500 GMT) and will close at 10pm.
Surveys published in the home stretch of a lacklustre election campaign forecast that the centre-left Labour party, led by former trade union chief Amir Peretz, will take second place with about 21 seats, making it a probable coalition partner. The right-wing Likud party, headed by Benyamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, was tipped to take 14 seats.
Israeli right-wingers, who failed to stop a withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip last year that the then-Likud chief Sharon championed, said removing more settlements would reward Palestinian violence.
But unilateralism could appeal to many Israelis worn down by a five-year-old Palestinian uprising and concerned by the victory the Islamist resistance movement Hamas scored in January's election in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Shaul Mofaz, the defence minister and Kadima politician, said in election eve comments on Israel's NRG internet site: "It is a plan to determine our own fate if there is no peace partner on the Palestinian side."
A policy of unilateralism could spell the end of the road map, which envisages a cessation of violence and the start of mutual steps leading to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. Neither side has carried out its commitments under the blueprint sponsored by the quartet of Middle East peace brokers - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, as many as 28 seats will be determined by undecided voters. Many of them are believed to be torn between Kadima and Labour, analysts say. Tuesday's ballot will be the fifth in a decade in Israel, where no party has ever won enough votes to form a majority government on its own, and coalitions are often narrow and fragile.
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16