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Voter turnout push could challenge Israeli leader

By Amy Teibel

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 11:15 p.m. MST

Israel's former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, left, visits the site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. Lieberman indicated on Monday that he would quit politics if convicted in his breach of trust and fraud case. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Associated Press

JERUSALEM — With large numbers of Israelis expected to sit out next week's election, centrist activists have launched a last-ditch appeal to get out the vote, hoping to defy what appears to be a guaranteed victory for a hard-line bloc led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This grass-roots effort could be the moderate camp's only chance. Moderate, secular voters tend to turn out in smaller numbers than ideologically motivated hard-liners. Reversing this trend, experts say, is the surest way to take on the government's handling of major issues like stalled peacemaking with the Palestinians, Iran's nuclear program and a troubled economy.

Polls published in Israeli newspapers over the weekend projected Netanyahu and his traditional right-wing and religious allies winning between 64 and 71 seats, enough to secure a majority in the 120-member parliament, compared to 49 to 56 for centrist and Arab parties.

Pollster Camil Fuchs says those numbers reflect current trends. "But a four to five percentage point change in turnout could change things," he said.

The get-out-the vote campaigners, including television personalities and local celebrities, present their efforts as non-partisan, but many are perceived to be aligned with Netanyahu's opponents.

Netanyahu's opponents say the stakes are especially high in the current election. Critics point to the deadlock in peace efforts with the Palestinians, his repeated run-ins with President Barack Obama and Iran's suspect nuclear program. Without a strong alliance with the U.S., they say, it would be difficult to halt the Iranians or rally international support for Israel's positions toward the Palestinians.

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