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World - Middle East

Barak's lead over Netanyahu grows in Israeli poll

Netanyahu
Netanyahu, center, greets supporters from behind a wall of bodyguards  


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In this story:

Likud members 'waking up'

Netanyahu discounts polls

Barak pitches to religious voters

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



May 13, 1999
Web posted at: 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Three days before the Israeli general elections, Labor leader Ehud Barak appears on the brink of garnering enough public support to win the vote outright, according to a poll released early Friday.

However, a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said members of his Likud party were "waking up" and could turn the tide for Netanyahu on election day.

The new poll, conducted by the Maariv-Gallup organization, gives Barak 49.9 percent of the vote, versus 35.1 percent for Netanyahu, if Arab candidate Azmi Bishara drops out of the race.

Bishara, who said he never expected to be elected prime minister but ran to emphasize issues important to Arab-Israelis, said Thursday he would probably drop out of the running after negotiations with Barak's representatives.

Center party candidate and former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai would receive 4.3 percent and Herut Party candidate Benny Begin 2.1 percent, with 8.6 percent still undecided, the poll showed.

If Begin were also to drop out, Barak's support would reach 50.3 percent, while Netanyahu would receive 36.7 percent, according to the poll.

Under Israel's election system, a candidate must get at least 50 percent of Monday's vote to win, or a runoff election will be held June 1.

Likud members 'waking up'

Despite the latest poll numbers, Netanyahu supporters predicted he will win a second term.

Netanyahu's finance minister, Meir Sheetrit, said Thursday that Likud members were gaining momentum.

"During the last two weeks they are waking up," he told CNN. "Now I see much more enthusiasm to win the election."

Sheetrit said the hard-line core of the Likud party was Netanyahu's "secret weapon" capable of mounting "a total revolution within a few days. I can see it happening now."

If a runoff is needed, Sheetrit said he could "almost guarantee" a win for Netanyahu.

Netanyahu discounts polls

The prime minister appeared Thursday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest site, to celebrate Jerusalem Day, the day marking the unification of the city.

In the past, the Western Wall has been a symbol of Netanyahu's tough policies on security and peace with the Palestinians. However, since Netanyahu signed the U.S.-brokered Wye River land-for-security agreement with Palestinians in October and then put the accord on hold, Israeli voters have been telling pollsters they don't know whether they can trust Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's wife, Sara, criticized the polls on Israeli Army Radio, saying they are full of "mistakes" and "misrepresentations."

Barak
A new poll shows Barak, center, may have enough support to win the election outright   

Netanyahu has also repeatedly attacked opinion polls, arguing that Israeli voters, particularly his Orthodox Jewish supporters, lie to pollsters. He predicted Thursday he would stage a come from behind victory just as he did in 1996, when he defeated Labor candidate Shimon Peres, who had been favored in pre-election polls.

Mordechai, who has come under pressure from his own party to drop out to help Barak, said he would remain in the running.

"Whoever wants to leave, let him get up and go," Mordechai told Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, on Thursday. "My decision won't change. It's quite explicit. I have no doubts."

Barak pitches to religious voters

Barak prepared a two-page letter which will be distributed Friday in thousands of synagogues appealing to the religious community to support him.

"In my government, I want to see religious Zionism return to the center of action and influence in education, economics and policy, as a full partner with us," the letter said.

The ultra-Orthodox community has strongly supported Netanyahu in the past. On Wednesday, the orthodox Shas party formally endorsed Netanyahu, marking the first time the party has publicly endorsed a candidate for prime minister.



SPECIAL SECTION:
Israeli Elections


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RELATED SITES:
The Gallup Organization
Israel's Institutions of Government
The Complete Guide to Palistine's Websites
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Home
The Middle East Network Information Center
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Likud party
Welcome to the Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
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