By SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD, Correspondent & Bureau Chief, ABC News Jerusalem
As she sips her morning coffee today Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni may take encouragement from the latest opinion polls.
Israel is heading to elections, probably February or March.
Both of Israel’s leading daily papers published polls that show her and her Kadima Party winning the most seats in the Knesset or parliament.
The numbers are surprising as her main rival Benyamin Netanyahu of the right wing Likud Party has been leading the polls for months.
In today’s Yedioth Aharanot, a poll conducted by the Dahaf Institute predicts Livni will win 29 seats while Likud and Netanyahu will win 26. In Maariv’s poll conducted by TNS Teleseker she wins 31 to his 29.
The decision to go for elections followed weeks of unsuccessful coalition negotiations by Livni, who could not persuade smaller parties to join her in government.
In the end she pulled the plug on the talks saying she was unwilling to compromise her political positions simply to satisfy the smaller parties. That decision appears to have won her new support.
She specifically meant Shas, the party representing ultra-orthodox Jews. It wanted more money for child allowances and a guarantee Livni would not negotiate the division of Jerusalem with the Palestinians. She refused both.
Netanyahu has been itching for elections since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was forced to relinquish the leadership of the Kadima Party.
Most Israeli political analysts are now expecting a clear fight between Livni and Netanyahu for the right move into the prime minister’s office. A clear-cut political struggle between the right and the left, between those in favor of pushing through the peace deal with the Palestinians, and those who oppose it.
Livni has been leading the talks with the Palestinians. She believes now is the time for Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank and for the establishment of the Palestinian state.
Netanyahu believes in concentrating on the economic development of Palestinian areas and at best a very small Palestinian state with only limited autonomy.
It promises to be a close and passionate election.
For the new American president entering the White House in January the outcome here will determine what kind of relationship he will have with his closest regional ally. An ally with whom he will face some very tough regional challenges.
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