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Netanyahu sounds alarm as polls give edge to Herzog

The last polls before Israel’s election, released Friday, found Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party still lagging behind the Zionist Union alliance led by opposition leader Isaac Herzog, raising the prospect of an upset victory by the challenger.

Under Israeli campaign rules, no more polls can be published before Tuesday’s vote, and the latest numbers suggested that momentum was shifting to Herzog’s party.

In an effort to win back conservative voters, who pollsters say have drifted away from Likud to smaller right-leaning parties, Netanyahu has gone on a media offensive, giving last-minute interviews to Israeli television channels and warning that his opponents might come out on top.

Herzog, the Labor Party leader, joined forces with Tzipi Livni, the leader of a small centrist party, to form the Zionist Union, maintaining their strength in the polls.

“If we do not close the gap in the next few days, there is definitely a danger that Tzipi Livni and Bougie Herzog will be prime ministers,” Netanyahu said in an interview Thursday night on Channel 2 television, referring to Herzog by his nickname.

Herzog and Livni have agreed to alternate as prime ministers if they win the election, each serving two years of a four-year term.

Polls published Friday by the mass circulation daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot and Channel 2 showed Zionist Union with 26 parliamentary seats and Likud with 22. Polls published by the newspaper Maariv and Israel Radio showed Zionist Union with 25 seats and Likud with 21.

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed by Maariv said Israel “needs to change direction.”

Regardless of which party wins more seats, both Herzog and Netanyahu must try after the election to enlist smaller parties that could give them a ruling 61-seat majority in the 120-seat legislature. In the Israeli political system, the leader with the best chance of creating a majority coalition is chosen by the state president to form the next government.

Analysts said dissatisfaction with the cost of living and rising housing prices had fueled voter disenchantment with Netanyahu, whom many saw as neglecting bread-and-butter issues that were troubling ordinary Israelis.

Netanyahu has also come under blistering criticism from groups of former generals and security chiefs, who have accused him of failing to deliver on security promises and seriously damaging Israel’s relations with the United States.

Yuval Diskin, a former head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, joined the chorus of criticism Friday in a posting on his Facebook page.

“After you clear away all the talk, the excellent media appearances and fluent English, Netanyahu’s last six years have left behind almost nothing,” Diskin wrote.

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