THE ROAD TO ISRAEL’S ELECTIONS Ignoring negative opinion polls, Netanyahu promises he will w

JERUSALEM, May 13 (JTA) — Days before Israel’s national elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dismissing opinion polls and declaring he will emerge the winner in Monday’s vote. Addressing supporters Thursday, Netanyahu lashed out at the media, which he accused of rallying behind Labor Party leader Ehud Barak. “They are afraid. And what are they afraid of? They are terribly afraid that the same thing will happen to them now as last time. “The polls say the left will win,” the premier said, adding that when the votes are counted, “their world will be overturned. It happened in 1996, and it will happen in 1999.” In 1996, the Likud leader scored a razor-thin victory over the Labor Party’s Shimon Peres, whom exit polls had predicted as the winner. Earlier this week, Netanyahu vehemently denied media reports that he had privately acknowledged his impending defeat. Increased interest is meanwhile focusing on the Center Party candidate for prime minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, who continues to angrily resist pressure from party leaders to drop out of the race before Monday’s vote. “Whoever wants to leave, let him get up and go,” Yitzhak Mordechai was quoted as saying Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot after meeting with the three other Centrist Party leaders. “My decision won’t change.” If Mordechai stays in the race, he will likely force a June 1 runoff between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leaded Ehud Barak, who is leading in the polls. A poll released Thursday by Channel Two Television showed Barak taking 46 percent of the vote next week to 34 percent for Netanyahu. In a June 1 runoff, Barak would get 53 percent to 39 percent for the premier, the poll said. Israeli media reported of growing consternation within the prime minister’s Likud Party over the poll figures. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and Communications Minister Limor Livnat have put out feelers to former party members Dan Meridor and Roni Milo, now of the Center Party, to consider a post-election reunion to oust Netanyahu as Likud leader in the event of his defeat next week. The paper said senior party members are considering extending a similar call to Knesset member Ze’ev “Benny” Begin, currently running as the prime ministerial candidate for the National Unity Party. Officials in Barak’s camp were meanwhile buoyed by the poll results, and Labor Knesset member Shlomo Ben-Ami of Labor was reportedly already drawing up a working plans for the first three months of a new Labor government. Meanwhile, the first Israeli Arab to run for prime minister, Knesset member Azmi Beshara, said Thursday he will make a decision over the weekend as to whether to drop out of the race. Sources within the Israeli Arab list he heads were quoted as saying that Beshara had to consider the risk of siphoning off crucial Arab votes that could help Barak earn a first-round victory. Both Netanyahu and Barak, meanwhile, continued courting crucial voting sectors, including the religious and Russian immigrant communities. Israeli media reported Thursday that leaders of the United Torah Judaism bloc decided to endorse Netanyahu in next week’s elections. The move by the fervently Orthodox bloc, which includes the Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael parties, comes in the wake of a similar move by the fervently Orthodox Shas Party. Meanwhile, Barak, who reportedly wrote off the haredi vote because of his earlier stance that yeshiva students should be drafted, has been courting the national religious camp. In a two-page letter filled with biblical references that is slated to be distributed in synagogues on Friday, Barak calls for a renaissance of the historic union between Labor and the national religious camp.

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