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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a construction site in Har Homa, east Jerusalem, Monday March 16, 2015, a day ahead of legislative elections. Netanyahu is seeking his fourth term as prime minister.Olivier Fitoussi/The Associated Press

Determined to reel in party stragglers in Tuesday's hotly contested national election in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu declared just hours before polls open that if he is returned as prime minister, there will be "no Palestinian state" during his term in office.

The move, seen as an attempt to win back Likud voters who have deserted the party in favour of a more right-wing leader, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, is a reversal of the position Mr. Netanyahu declared in 2009 when he said he accepted the need for a Palestinian state.

"I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel," Mr. Netanyahu said Monday in his final campaign appearance. "The left has buried its head in the sand time after time and ignores this, but we [in the Likud] are realistic and understand."

Opinion polls indicate Mr. Netanyahu's party running second to the Zionist Union (ZU), a voting bloc led by Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Labour Party, and Tzipi Livni, head of the smaller Hatnuah party.

In the day's other major development, Ms. Livni, a former foreign minister, announced she was willing to back down from a deal she had made with Mr. Herzog to rotate the premiership between the ZU leaders after two years, should it form a government. Ms. Livni explained that her willingness to relinquish her turn as prime minister was in the interest of forming a coalition.

"This is amazing news – maybe a game-changer," said Gil Goldstein, an Israeli finance manager now living in Canada. "This will affect and improve the capability of Herzog to build a majority in the Knesset," he said.

Mr. Goldstein left Israel 10 years ago, fed up with trying to live a decent life on a middle-class income, facing upper-class prices.

There are between 40,000 and 60,000 Israelis believed to be living in Canada, and most continue to follow politics there closely. So do a great many Jewish Canadians who have had a profound influence on the Harper government's policy toward Israel.

Frank Dimant, former CEO of B'nai Brith Canada and publisher of the Jewish Tribune, is one such activist. He called the Livni move "a last-minute effort to shore him [Mr. Herzog] up."

"Herzog doesn't have the experience" to be an effective prime minister, said Mr. Dimant, now CEO of Christians United for Israel. "The fact that he agreed to rotate [the premiership] with Livni showed weakness on his part," he said. "Hers was the much smaller party."

Now that Ms. Livni has indicated her willingness to step aside, he added, it "makes it easier [for Mr. Herzog] to propose a rotation plan to [Mr. Netanyahu] as part of a national unity government."

Under Israel's proportional representation voting system, no political party has ever been elected with a majority of seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and leading parties contest for the right to try to form a coalition government – in this case the Likud party of Mr. Netanyahu and the Zionist Union of Mr. Herzog.

Enter another player in this drama: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. It is he who must decide which of the leaders of the top two parties should be given first crack at creating a government, and he is said to favour the creation of a so-called "unity government" that would include the two largest blocs, along with a minimum number of smaller parties.

Such a government is considered by some to be more stable than a narrow coalition of one large bloc and several smaller parties, each one making demands of a new prime minister.

Mr. Dimant believes that the return of Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister "would give Israel the kind of strong leadership it needs … one that doesn't succumb to international pressure."

Mr. Netanyahu's renunciation Monday of any kind of Palestinian state during his watch is one such example of what Mr. Dimant means.

However, Mr. Netanyahu "has publicly set himself against the worldwide consensus on the only way to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians," said Gabriella Goliger, an Ottawa-based board member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now, an activist group promoting efforts by Israel to engage in peace efforts with its Arab neighbours.

The Israeli leader's toughness "is not in Israel's best interest" said Ms. Goliger, an author. "Israel needs more friends, not enemies. It needs to repair its relationship with the United States – and Herzog will be much better at doing that."

Eti Greenberg, an Israeli community activist who worked in Jerusalem with long-time mayor Teddy Kollek, moved to Canada 40 years ago. "Netanyahu has been a catastrophe for Israel," she said. "His going to [the U.S.] Congress was the worst chutzpah," she added, referring to Mr. Netanyahu's controversial speech warning U.S. lawmakers about Iran's nuclear program.

"There are so many problems in Israel that need solving," she said. "Why go to Washington and tell them how to do things? It was embarrassing."

Ms. Greenberg moved to Canada in 1975, she explained, because of some of the hateful divisions that existed among the Jewish population. "My young daughter and I were spat on" by ultra-Orthodox Jews, she said, "and I was called 'a whore' if I wore a sleeveless blouse."

"I didn't want my daughters to grow up with such hate," she said.

"Israel needs someone who can bring Israelis together," Ms. Greenberg added. "I think Herzog is a man who can do that."

Amit Breuer, an Israeli filmmaker, moved to Toronto 11 years ago for similar reasons. In her family's case it was the racism between Arab and Jew that drove them out.

"The language of hatred and fear is so destructive," she said. "And most Israelis don't even realize they've become racist."

"It will require a really big change at the top for this to end," adding that she doesn't think Tuesday's vote will produce such an outcome.

"I expect that Herzog and Livni will win the most seats and they'll probably form a coalition," Ms. Breuer said. "But I think they'll only make a very small difference – maybe a cosmetic difference – in the country."

It will take something more radical to resolve the differences, which is why, she said, she would vote for the mostly-Arab Joint List, expected to come third in Tuesday's election, if she were in Israel Tuesday.

Ms. Breuer wouldn't be the first Jewish Israeli to vote for this anti-Zionist bloc. Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset supports its main party – the mixed Arab-Jewish communist Hadash movement – believing that the time for exclusionary Zionism is past.

"We need to show people they don't have to be afraid," Ms. Breuer said.

Simcha Jacobovici, a Canadian filmmaker who now lives in Tel Aviv, also thinks Mr. Herzog and Ms. Livni's Zionist Union will win the most seats in Tuesday's vote and will form a coalition government. But he draws a very different conclusion.

For all the hype, he said, the government that will be cobbled together by the left will find its proposals on peace rejected by the Palestinians, just as Mr. Netanyahu's were.

"The failure of the centre-right and the upcoming failure of the centre-left, along with the reality of Iran's race to the bomb will turn the Israeli electorate radically right," Mr. Jacobovici said.

As a result, the people will elect someone of the far right in the election after this one. Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home leader, will be the choice in the new era, Mr. Jacobovici predicted – the very man Mr. Netanyahu is most concerned with taking away Likud votes.

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