The two front-runners in the race to rule Israel made last-minute appeals to voters as polls opened Tuesday in a close general election whose outcome could determine the course of Mideast peace negotiations.
Opinion polls for months have predicted a decisive victory by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline Likud Party, but new polls released over the weekend showed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s ruling Kadima Party closing the gap.
Netanyahu opposes ceding land to the Palestinians and favors allowing Israeli settlements in the West Bank to expand, two points that are likely to clash with Washington policy. Livni is a centrist who hopes to become the country’s first female leader in nearly 40 years.
Neither is expected to get more than 30 seats in the 120-seat parliament, however, meaning the winner will likely have to form a coalition with smaller parties.
A fractious coalition could complicate efforts to create a Palestinian state and pose big challenges for President Barack Obama, who has made achieving Middle East peace a top priority.
Livni told the Maariv daily newspaper in a story published Tuesday that she offers Israelis "a leadership that has vision and a backbone of values and morals."
"It is so close, and it depends only on us," she said.
Livni was one of the architects of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last month and has been striving to present an image of herself as tough but sensible.
Netanyahu told the newspaper that the next prime Minster must be from a party that has widespread public confidence.