Page last updated at 00:31 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Live: Israeli general election 2009

Kadima supporters celebrate exit polls showing a victory for their party

By Jude Sheerin

Live coverage of Israel's general election day as it happened, with all the news, blogs, your comments, insights from correspondents and the best of the media. (All times GMT, IST-2)

0027 That ends our live coverage of Israel's election night. The BBC News website is following this nail-biting poll as it unfolds every step of the way. You can catch the latest on the political horse-trading around the formation of Israel's 18th Knesset here. Many thanks for clicking by.

0020 So we have an election cliff-hanger: to recap, exit polls and partial official results give Kadima's Tzipi Livni a narrow win, with Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu second. Both leaders have claimed victory, even though final results are not due until later on Wednesday and it's by no means certain who will become PM. To President Shimon Peres now lies the unenviable task of working out which leader is most capable of knitting together a coalition. Decisions, decisions!

2359 Partial official results, based on votes from almost half of polling stations, give Kadima 23% of the vote, Likud 22%, Yisrael Beiteinu 13% and Labour 10%.

2349 Tzipi Livni says she is committed to bringing home Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants during a cross-border raid in 2006.

2344 Tzipi Livni invites Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to join a national unity government under her Kadima Party.

2341 Tzipi Livni says electors voted not out of fear, or desperation, but out of hope and they put their faith in Kadima.

Elizrael in Jerusalem tweets: The negative Kadima campaign - "Bibi or Tzipi" helped sway left wing voters away from Avoda [Labour] and Meretz to Tzipi's Kadima. Read Elizrael's tweets.


Wyre Davies
The BBC's Wyre Davies at the Labour Party rally in Tel Aviv says: Just for the record, Ehud Barak, the Labour leader, did turn up and speak. He was brief but defiant - hardly sounding like a man who had just led his party to its worst ever election result. Perhaps as few as 13 seats for a party that once would have expected 50. Barak was vague about whether Labour would join another coalition government. As soon as he had left, the fixtures, banners and lights came down. No party in the Labour club tonight.

2333 Tzipi Livni, a 50-year-old former Mossad agent and corporate lawyer, claims victory for her Kadima Party.

2330 At Kadima HQ, party leader Tzipi Livni is heading to the stage.

2309 At Kadima's HQ, where party leader Tzipi Livni is due to speak, crowds booed as Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on TV screens, addressing the Likud Party faithful.

2259 Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, at his party's headquarters, says the initial results reflect voters' fears about what he calls the threat from Iran and an economic firestorm. He says he plans to muster the nationalist parties into a coalition and hopes he will be the next PM.

2254 The story so far: Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima Party appears to have eked out a narrow win, if exit polls are correct. But it is not clear if she can scrape together the 61-seat coalition needed to lead the country and become Israel's second female prime minister after Golda Meir. Analysts are saying that the right-wing bloc, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, could have up to 65 seats, while the centre-left bloc, headed by Livni, could take about 57 seats.

2252 Meanwhile, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, at his party's headquarters, says the right-wing bloc under Likud has won a "resounding victory".

2244 The BBC's Heather Sharp at Kadima Party HQ says: Tzipi Livni is due to speak soon. Her supporters are cheering and chanting in Hebrew slang: "Bibi [Netanyahu] got it in the face."

Supporter of Avigdor Lieberman and the Yisrael Beiteinu party

2240 Moldovan-born former bouncer Avigdor Lieberman, leader of right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, also says his "heart's desire" is a "nationalistic" government, although his party was "not ruling anyone out" in terms of joining a coalition government under either centrist Kadima's Tzipi Livni or the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu.

e-mail sent in by reader
Jo Levitt, Rehovot, says: I voted. I'm disappointed that the result was not more decisive. Now we will have yet another weak coalition. It's time Israel got rid of proportional representation and created a 2,3 or 4 party system. 34 parties is way too many. More of your comments

2233 Avigdor Lieberman, leader of right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, which has surged to third place in exit polls, tells cheering supporters their party will set the agenda for the next government. He also said there would be no negotiations with Hamas.

2230 Despite all the poor weather and talk of a disengaged electorate, the final turnout was reportedly a very respectable 65.2%, higher than the 63.2% in 2006's polls.

e-mail sent in by reader
Estie, Tel Aviv, says: It's pretty depressing that Livni's victory seems destined to transform into failure to form a government because of the relativeness weakness of the centre-left bloc. Sad also that such a rare victory by a woman politician who has been patronised and sniped at for her gender and lack of macho/militaristic character could potentially be pushed aside. More of your comments

Katya Adler
The BBC's Katya Adler at Kadima election HQ says: The crowd went wild here when exit polls flashed on screen. Kadima supporters say they know it's not the end of a long political road - or even a long political night - but they insist that Tzipi Livni is the right person to lead Israel. "Don't worry, Believni" is the chant.

2155 Israel Radio's legal commentator Moshe Negbi explains that Israel's President Shimon Peres must ask the person who he believes has the best chance of attaining a majority of 61 MPs to form the government. He adds that it is irrelevant which party is bigger; in the 1990 election the president asked the leader of the second largest party to form a government. Who was that party leader? Shimon Peres.

Paul Wood
The BBC's Paul Wood at the Likud gathering in Tel Aviv says: We mustn't forget that the exit polls do not include members of the military and some people expect Benjamin Netanyahu to pick up some more seats from the military.

2144 Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has reportedly expressed dismay that Israel's right-wing parties have apparently performed so well. "It's obvious the Israelis have voted to paralyse the peace process," he told AFP news agency. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Israelis had voted for "the most bellicose candidates, those who are the most extremist in their rhetoric".

2135 Ehud Barak is the first party chief to speak on live TV after the exit polls, in which Labour appears to have come fourth, an unprecedented failure. "Nothing is clear for the moment," he says, "But we will not serve a government that does not go our way and we are not afraid of going into opposition and serve the country in this way. Many better people than me have served the country in this way before."

Bethany Bell
The BBC's Bethany Bell at the Yisrael Beitenu HQ says: People here say they are happy to be in third place according to the exit polls, but many had been hoping for more and are waiting for the full count. They do say it shows the party is here to stay and their slogan "No loyalty, no citizenship" is here to stay as well. But the idea of a loyalty test for Israel's Arab citizens is regarded as racist by some Israelis.

2126 Yitzhak Aharonovitch of Yisrael Beitenu discusses on Israel's Channel 2 TV whether his party would join a government headed by Tzipi Livni: "Lieberman will be here in an hour. But I say, everything is possible. We also have our principles and red lines: changing the system of government, civil marriage, a citizenship law - things that are very important to us. The thousands who believe in this voted for us."

Jeremy Bowen
The BBC's Jeremy Bowen says: Benjamin Netanyahu has often sounded ideologically rigid. But some believe that if he returns as prime minister he may be more flexible. Jeremy Bowen election diary

Kim Ghattas
2057The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says: If there is a Benjamin Netanyahu victory or a right-wing coalition this is likely to put a dent in the Obama administration's hopes of brokering a peace deal. She says this is not exactly what the Obama administration would have hoped for but any White House reaction will say Israel and the US are close friends and they look forward to working with whoever is Israel's next leader. But privately there will be some concern over how to move peace efforts forward.

Singularity in Israel tweets: People seem to not understand how our system works. There's a majority to the right bloc. No left govt can be established. We lost. Read Singularity's tweets.

2047 Labour candidate Shelly Yehimovitch tells Israel's TV Channel 2: "This is very tough for us. We have to relate to this very seriously and not start brokering all sorts of deals or try by force to join the coalition like leftovers. We have to go courageously into the opposition and reform ourselves as a social-democratic party that upholds the rule of law, that seeks peace, and is security-minded at the same time."

2043 Senior Likud member Dan Meridor tells Israel's TV Channel 2: "The person who will form the government is the person who gets 61 votes. I see no way that [Tzipi] Livni can do this." He adds: "When she is invited to join a government headed by Netanyahu, the relative size of her party will be taken into consideration, but there is no doubt that Netanyahu has a possibility of forming a government with a stable majority. I assume he will invite all the Zionist parties, including the Labour Party and Kadima."

bethanyshondark tweets: Kadima's edge is small, Labour has hit historic lows. Too bad Lieberman & Israel Beitenu did so well. Doesn't make us look good. Read bethanyshondark's tweets.

comment from blogger
Bradley Burston blogs on Haaretz: The exit poll predictions showing Tzipi Livni scoring an upset come-from-behind victory in Tuesday's election represent a considerable blow to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the campaign-long frontrunner. Nonetheless, the right is holding out hope that its strength as a bloc will grant it first chance at forming a ruling coalition, to take office in about a month. It will fall to Peres, as president, to make the decision on whether to ask Livni or Netanyahu to try to form the government. Read Bradley Burston's blog

2035 But Israel's Channel 10 is also quoting senior Kadima politician Dalia Itzik as saying: "Livini has won the poll and will be next PM." Stay tuned, this could get complicated!

2031 Benjamin Netanyahu tells Israel's Channel 10: "I will be the next prime minister."


Bethany Bell
The BBC's Bethany Bell is at the Yisrael Beitenu HQ says: It's been a rather muted reaction here this evening. I was talking to one supporter here before the exit polls came out and he was hoping for 20 seats, but it looks like they may have only got 15. But Yisrael Beitenu still believe that both Kadima and Likud will have to rely on their support. Avigdor Lieberman himself isn't expected here until midnight local time.

Hugh Sykes
2025The BBC's Hugh Sykes at the headquarters of Kadima says: "Party supporters are singing, shouting and hugging about the exit polls. There is total delight at these exit polls which have overturned a lot of expectations. Jubilation of what - if it's confirmed- may be their great victory for Kadima.

Adam Mynott
2020The BBC's Adam Mynott at Likud party HQ says: The exit polls have been greeted with some surprise here, as in the run-up to the election it looked like Likud was in the lead. But looking around, despite the surprise they expressed, Likud members continue to say that if a coalition government is formed, they're still the ones who're in the best position to form a such government.

Elizrael tweets: I'm really hoping that all those polls are wrong. Either way, Livni can't form a government. We'll have to wait and see. Read Elizrael's tweets.

comment from blogger
Bradley Burston blogs on Haaretz: It's an election about extremism, Arab and Jewish. It is a referendum about Israel's future, and, no less, its troubled present. Israelis by the millions are waiting tonight to hear their own verdict about themselves. In a battle between extremism and centrism, they are waiting to learn how polarized they are, how vexed, how disillusioned, how alienated, how furious. Read Bradley Burston's blog

2015 Israel's Channel 10 exit poll puts Kadima on 30 seats, Likud on 28 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu on 15 seats and Labour on 13 seats.

2014 A Channel 2 exit poll says 29 seats for Kadima, 27 for Likud, 15 for Yisrael Beiteinu, 13 for Labour and 10 for Shas.

2011 David Landau, former chief editor of Haaretz, tells the BBC initial results suggest Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman will be the king- or queen-maker in the coalition negotiations to come.

2003 The BBC's Paul Wood at Likud's election HQ says if the exit polls are true this means the right-wing bloc has dominated the vote. One possibility could be a coalition of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox Shas, he says.

2002 Israel's Channel 1 exit poll puts Kadima on 30 seats, Likud on 28 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu on 14 seats and Labour on 13 seats.


Katya Adler
As polls close, the BBC's Katya Adler says: Nail-biting moments at the HQs of centre-right Likud and centrist Kadima. Which will be the winner? Many voters admit to voting negatively against, rather than for, a particular candidate. But the victor's champagne bubbles could quickly burst. Coalition building in this country is a lengthy, difficult and at times dirty business. Once settled, Israel's new prime minister will inherit a recession-threatened economy, flawed peace talks with the Palestinians and, Israelis believe, the ever-present possibility of attack from Hamas, Iran, Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Wyre Davies
1954 The BBC's Wyre Davies at the Labour Party rally in Tel Aviv says: On an absolutely foul night in Tel Aviv, rumours abound at the Labour Party rally (wake) that party leader Ehud Barak may not show up if it fails to get close to an "acceptable" target of 20 seats. There are probably more journalists here than Labour activists - if it wasn't for the heavy rain, thunder and lightning outside this big white tent it would be even more empty... There goes another thunder clap, someone out there isn't happy.

e-mail sent in by reader
Daniel, Ra'anana, Israel, says: I was reminded again today what a beacon of democracy Israel is in the Middle East. I am so proud to be Israeli and hope this election will bring improve our chances of peace with our Arab neighbours.. More of your comments

comment from blogger
Allison Kaplan Sommer's blog on Pajamas Media: It's the time when you watch the news and try to figure out what the journalists aren't telling you… The hints we're getting - it's going to be a close. The TV reporters keep referring to coffee and caffeine and staying up late. Read more Allison Kaplan Sommer

1930The BBC's Heather Sharp in the Likud HQ says: Tensions are rising with barely half an hour until the first exit polls. "I'm a bit stressed, a bit nervous, but I'm optimistic," says Rafael Cohen, head of Likud's international arm. "There are a lot of rumours that it's going to be very close. I don't know if we will get the most seats, but at the end of the process I think Bibi [Netanyahu] will be the prime minister."

e-mail sent in by reader
Josh, Tel Aviv, says: I work in a cafe in Tel Aviv, and all day the customers were arguing about whom to vote for, but no-one really seemed to know. I don't think many Israelis think there is much of a choice. More of your comments

e-mail sent in by reader
Shaul, Jerusalem, says: I voted Hadash - the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. Among the ocean of hatred and racism that formed the focus of most of the parties' messages this year, Hadash stood out with its clear and hopeful message of peace, equality, and partnership between Arabs and Jews. More of your comments

hakerem, an Israeli wine writer, tweets: Any wine for the elections? Hebron Heights for the right wingers and Margalit for the left wingers? Read hakerem's tweets.


Paul Wood
The BBC's Paul Woods at Likud's election centre in Tel Aviv says: The mood here is muted. One Likud MK confirmed to me privately the party's own internal estimates put Benjamin Netanyahu neck-and-neck with Tzipi Livni. This is a huge turnaround in the race. One reason may be a large number of undecideds - "None of the Above" was nearly the most popular party in this campaign. Many of the undecideds were apparently women and the young, many of whom went over to Ms Livni late in the day. Everyone here - and no doubt the other parties - is looking forward to a count full of the drama so conspicuously missing from the campaign.

comment from blogger
Shmuel Rosner's blog in The Jerusalem Post: Back from Jerusalem, heavy rain, but people are voting. This is good news for Livni and Kadima. Read more Shmuel Rosner

Elizrael's tweets: My family ventured outside to vote. It was raining non stop. Here's what it looks like from the inside. Read Elizrael's tweets.

Wyre Davies
1819The BBC's Wyre Davies at the Labour Party rally in Tel Aviv says: From senior Israeli Labour figure Daniel Ben-Simon, a frank admission that his party needs a period in opposition, "time in the desert", to reconnect with the voters. Mr Ben-Simon hasn't written off the night just yet but admits it's bad that a party which could once command more than 50 seats in the Knesset may end up with less than 20 after this election.


Katya Adler
The BBC's Katya Adler in Tel Aviv says: I'm at Kadima's headquarters and the mood is increasingly upbeat. I've just spoken to one of the party's candidates, Nachman Shai, whose face was shining with optimism. He really believes Kadima can do it. He admits there's been lots of negative voting - people voting against Benjamin Netanyahu, but he adds Tzipi Livni has run a great, energetic campaign. Livni is now stuck at home suffering from flu, but Shai says she'll make it out of doors as the results start coming in.

comment from blogger
Focus on Ashkelon blogs: Election day today. I took my 2 daughters with me. Shir just turned 18. This is the 1st time she is voting for the government. Big excitement. I took the little one Gily, 7, too. I want her to grow to be a good citizen. We'll have to wait till tomorrow to see how next Pime Minister will be... Read more Focus on Ashkelon


Lyse Doucet
The BBC's Lyse Doucet says: We may have a fairly good idea of the shape of things by first light, but in such a close race, every vote counts. Absentee ballots, including everyone from soldiers to diplomats, will only be counted on Thursday. Then, President Shimon Peres has to choose the man or woman who has the best chance of cobbling together a coalition. And that may not just be a matter of who gets the most seats. His choice then has 42 days to prove he or she can do it. What a juggling act it may be.

1739 David Landau, former chief editor of Haaretz, tells the BBC he reckons the momentum is with Tzipi Livni and that she is neck-and-neck or even a shade ahead of her Likud rival, Benjamin Netanyahu.

e-mail sent in by reader
Lilach Ron, Raanana says: I voted for Meretz which is pro-peace! The most important issue in Israel nowadays is to end the Israeli occupation and give the Palestinans their own state. More of your comments

1726 The Arabic press contains widespread scepticism that this poll, whatever its result, will spell any change in regional relations. Read more here: Arab press despair as Israel votes

1720 We're on the home straight, with less than three hours of voting left. Exit polls will be immediate, but there'll be lots of horse-trading before any government can be formed. We'll bring you the very latest developments as they unfold into the night.

By David Gritten

1700 OK. Just as voting draws to a close, it's time for me to go home and leave you in the capable hands of my colleague, Jude Sheerin. So far, turnout appears to have been higher than expected, despite the bad weather. As he voted, the front-runner throughout the campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu, said his Likud party would have "a good victory". But opinion polls suggest that his main rival, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, has made up ground in recent weeks. She called on Israelis to vote out "not out of despair but out of hope".

1640 More than 50% of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 1600 GMT (1800 local time), Israel's Central Elections Commission has said, three percentage points more than in the 2006 general election.

comment from blogger
Bradley Burston blogs on Haaretz: The election is likely to be determined within the next two hours, as the final waves of voters head for the polls... If a current break in the rain holds, voters will take advantage of late polling hours and cast their ballots. If, however, cloudbursts resume, many will vote with their house slippers. Read Bradley Burston's blog

1610 Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent of The Jerusalem Post, tells the BBC that Avigdor Lieberman is going to be part of any coalition government that is formed. "Either Benjamin Netanyahu, because he would be a natural partner to parties on the right, or to Tzipi Livni, who would need him to get the majority necessary to govern," he says. "However, he's not going to be the foreign minister, the finance minister or the defence minister. He won't be able to implement any of the agenda that he ran on during the campaign."

Tim Franks
1550The BBC's Tim Franks says: Top quote of the day so far, from a punter at a polling station in Jerusalem: Zion, 54, told me he was voting for Tzipi Livni, "because she's more of a man than Netanyanu or Barak".

comment from blogger
Guy Ronen blogs on Yediot Ahranot: "Speak up now, or forever hold your peace," declares the minister at a Catholic wedding. Yet we would do well do adopt this Christian dictum here and now, in the Jewish State. Those who fail to report to polling stations shall automatically and absolutely lose their right to whine about anything. Read Guy Ronen's blog

Katya Adler
1540The BBC's Katya Adler in Tel Aviv says: Throughout the day I have seen a lot of enthusiasm for the national holiday Israelis get on election day. I have seen queues inside a shopping mall in Jerusalem, at an ice cream stall in the village of Ein Kerem, and in an antique shop in Jaffa. But what I haven't seen are queues outside any of the polling stations that I have passed.

1530 The BBC's Robin Lustig spent some time at a polling station in the mainly middle-class town of Mevasseret Zion, in the hills just outside Jerusalem. He asked voters there what they thought was most important in today's election. One first-time voter said he had cast his ballot for Meretz because they were environmentally friendly and pro-peace. Another man said the problem lay with Israel's political system. "It's very fragile - we have too many small parties," he said. A woman voter said the most important thing for her was that fact that she could vote. "Democracy is a very important thing which should be cherished," she said.

An Israeli Arab votes

1525 BBC Jerusalem bureau chief James Stephenson says: We're losing the battle with weather at the moment. Just had a hail storm. I hate to think what it's doing to the turnout in the election. I do know it's driven Lyse Doucet inside to keep from being swept away. We're hoping for some improvement by the time the polls close.

comment from blogger
Shira Kaplan compares Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and US President Barack Obama in the Jerusalem Post: Lieberman's campaign is bold to the extent that it fearlessly confronts the toughest philosophical questions posed by Israel's founding fathers, much like Obama did in the States... That is, there's something fundamentally problematic in running both a Jewish and a democratic state. Read Shira Kaplan's article on

1510 The Jewish orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, are making a major effort to encourage their supporters to vote out of fear that a high turnout will reduce their share of the overall vote, the Jerusalem Post reports. Normally, turnout among their supporters is higher than the national average, which gives them a relative advantage. "The voter turnout among secular, non-traditional people... is much higher than last year. We have to start the momentum moving," said a Shas leader, Ariel Atias.

1500 Early turnout has so far been slightly higher than in the last general election, Israel's Central Election Commission has said. By 1400 GMT (1600 local time), 41.9% of those eligible had voted, compared to 39% by the same time in 2006.

Paul Wood
1455 The BBC's Paul Wood says: Some Israeli voters seem to have taken to heart the old anarchists' saying "if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal". Depending on which poll you look at, as much as 30% of the electorate is still in the undecided column. And those who have made up their minds don't seem that enthusiastic.

1450 Likud MP Yuval Steinitz tells the BBC he feels many people have been voting for minor parties because they assume a Likud victory is assured. "I am very worried to tell the truth," he says. "Paradoxically, people feel on the centre-right that Netanyahu's and Likud's victory is clear and obvious and therefore they can vote for other satellite parties, religious parties, and secular parties. The gap is narrowing."

comment from blogger
Allison Kaplan Sommer's blog on Pajamas Media: So the big day is here. And it's a stormy, rainy crappy day. Thunder, lightening, even hail. One can't help wondering if this is a higher power's commentary on the political state of the nation. Despite the weather, turnout is higher than expected - that is rather inspiring. Although with election day a vacation day and all, Israelis truly have no excuse not to exercise their right to vote. Read Allison Kaplan Sommer's blog

1445 Abdullah Abdullah, a Palestinian MP, tells the BBC that the Palestinians' willingness to deal with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister would depend on his "seriousness in making peace". "If he comes, as he's done in his campaign, saying that all the Palestinians need is to improve their standard of living, then he's mistaken," he says. "We are in need of ending the Israeli occupation, of being free, dignified and independent in our own state. If he's ready for that, we can do business with each other."

1435The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Gaza says: Israelis may be queuing at the polls, but many people in Gaza have been waiting in line at UN food distribution centres across the territory. Even before the conflict, which ended just a few weeks ago, well over half of the population of Gaza was dependant on food aid. Now that number has risen and a lot of people here have told us they don't care who is elected in Israel because they feel they have suffered at the hands of governments, both on the left and the right.

A look at how the Israeli election is viewed in Gaza

1430 Yoni Ben-Menahem, the chief political correspondent for Israel Radio, tells the BBC that despite secret polls carried out by the leading parties last night suggesting they are tied, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni has only a slim chance of becoming PM. "I think it will be very difficult for Livni, even if she gets equal votes to Benjamin Netanyahu, to form a government, because the right-wing has a block in the Knesset of 67 seats [out of 120]," he says.

1415 While visiting the southern city of Beersheba, which has been hit by rockets from Gaza, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu says he is the candidate best equipped to deal with the threats facing Israel. "I will do everything so that our enemies won't provoke us, won't think we're weak, won't rain down... their rockets," he says. "They'll know that in Israel there's a different government, a strong prime minister who will answer with a crushing response to any attack on us."

Tim Franks
1400The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says: Another coffee, another couple of voters. This time it's with a husband and wife (along with their two young children). Zohar thought that this election was in two instalments - as it was for a time, several years ago, with one election for the Knesset, and one for the prime minister. Her misapprehension is, apparently, widely shared, which is one reason pundits say that support for the hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu has increased, because some people think that you can vote for them, and vote separately to make Benjamin Netanyahu the prime minister. Zohar, in any case, is torn between parties of the left: Labour, Meretz, Hadash, the Greens. Her husband, Noham, is voting Bibi. He "hates" Likud, he says, but thinks Bibi will make the best prime minister. The main attraction, he says: "Bibi's economic prowess". In fact, Noham's dream scenario would be Bibi as finance minister under a strong prime minister. But that strong prime minister is nowhere to be found.

comment from blogger
Imshin blogs: Today's vote comes down to this - who do we prefer as prime minister: Tzipi Livni or Benjamin Netanyahu?... Which of the two has what it takes? Which one is a doer? My immediate answer is, sadly, neither. You know what the funny thing is? After everything that has happened, a lot of people are saying that if Olmert was running for office again they would be voting for him. I probably would. Read Imshin's blog

Elizrael's tweets: Tzipi will have to wait a while before she can take the helm in Israel. Change is on the way. Read Elizrael's tweets.

1355 Central Elections Committee chairman Eliezer Rivlin says 68 complaints of electoral irregularities have so far been filed. Kadima said Likud activists had removed votes for it at several polling stations. The left-wing Meretz party meanwhile said that some ballots had been tampered with, after a voter allegedly found Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman's name on the back of one of them. Yisrael Beiteinu complained of a shortage of ballots at some polling stations.

Lyse Doucet
1340The BBC's Lyse Doucet says: …how to predict anything in such an unpredictable place? Aside from strong winds, and a winter's chill, thunder storms have still not struck. And predictions of a low turnout don't seem to be materialising either. Now it seems it could be higher than last time which was a bit more than 63% - the lowest in Israeli legislative history. As for predictions on results, now there are whispers of secret polls in the dark of night. Independent pollster Rafi Smith says it seems there are indications Kadima may have indeed pulled ahead slightly over Likud. So who knows what surprises will emerge when the exit polls are released tonight? But we all remember the 1996 elections. Many Israelis went to bed thinking Shimon Peres had won and woke up to hear Benjamin Netanyahu was their new prime minister. Oh dear, and now it's started to rain…

e-mail sent in by reader
Y Salman, Tel Aviv, Israel says: I voted early in the morning. I hope my candidate wins with a large majority and the Likud Party will be able to easily form a stable government. More of your comments.

1335 A senior member of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Ayman Taha, tells the BBC that it is awaiting the result of the Israeli election to know whether a lasting truce with Israel is possible. A delegation is currently in Cairo, carrying a reply from Palestinian factions in Gaza to the Egyptian proposal for a more durable ceasefire. But with both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his security chief, Omar Suleiman, currently outside Egypt, no agreement seems imminent.

1330 Leading Likud MP Yuval Steinitz tells the BBC that the party is ready to negotiate with the Palestinians, but only under certain circumstances. "We're ready to promote economic co-operation for the benefit of Palestinians in the West Bank," he says. "We're not ready to risk Israel's security and its very existence. And the burden of proof is on the Palestinians to show that they can crack down on terrorism, that they can prevent fundamentalism."

Robin Lustig
1325The BBC's Robin Lustig says: You never know who you'll meet when you stand outside a polling station. But it was something of a surprise as I tried to avoid being swept away by the strong winds when I noticed the Likud MP Yuval Steinitz, whom I know from previous elections. He had a couple of minutes to spare before rushing off to join his party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, so we snatched a quick interview on the street corner. Very useful it was, too...

Adam Mynott
1310The BBC's Adam Mynott says: Israeli President Shimon Peres cast his vote in Jerusalem at the School for the Arts. Outside a couple of dozen fellow Israeli voters - mostly elderly - waited in line for their turn. They were wrapped up warm and many carried umbrellas heeding the forecast of rain. After voting, Mr Peres stressed how important it was for Israelis to participate. He said that today showed again a mature democracy at work. He also said he was concerned the candidates had failed to debate "the burning issues facing the country".

Israelis queue to vote

Wyre Davies
1245 The BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem says: Despite concerns that after a lacklustre campaign there would be a record low voter turnout, by lunchtime across Israel polling stations were reporting relatively brisk business.

1230 Peter Medding of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem tells the BBC that Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and other right-wing parties are on track for 65 seats in the Knesset, while Kadima and Labour are set for 55. "It looks likely that under those conditions, Netanyahu would be called upon to form a government," he says.

e-mail sent in by reader
Marisa Ellman, Tel Aviv, Israel I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth the process was at the polling station. I am confident that my vote for Tzipi Livni and the Kadima Party has the potential to lead to more peaceful times in this conflict ridden nation. More of your comments

1225 David Horovitz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post tells the BBC that the general election is about security. "A very defensive Israel is going to the polls today," he says. "There is a sense in Israel, that we tried very hard to find an agreement with the moderates and failed, and now there's a feeling we better circle the wagons. A mood of despondency has set in."

comment from blogger
Bradley Burston blogs on Haaretz: Voting in Israel is much like other dangerous activities. It doesn't really hurt at all while you're doing it, but the next morning... Read Bradley Burston's blog on

1215 BBC Jerusalem bureau chief James Stephenson says: Election day is usually a moment of calm. The time when the news operation pauses while the electorate has its say and before the excitement of election night. Not this time. An electrical storm is forecast, meaning frantic contingency planning in case we have to abandon our outdoor presenter positions. Tune in to find out how we cope!

comment from blogger
Shlomo Artzi's blogs on Yediot Ahranot: As opposed to the commentators who characterised this election campaign as "sleepy," it appears to me that this was one of the more fiery election campaigns we ever experienced... Our views shifted and changed like miserable waves at sea, because everyone agreed on one thing - these elections were forced on us all of a sudden, while there is no new and promising leader on the horizon. Read Shlomo Artzi's blog on

1155 Haneen Zoubi from Nazereth could become the first Arab-Israeli woman to serve in the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party, according to the Jerusalem Post. Ms Zoubi is number three on the Balad party's list and recent polls suggest it will win three seats in the election, as it did in 2006. Another Israeli-Arab woman, Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, is leading a small Arab-Jewish party called Da'am, but it is not expected to win enough votes for a Knesset seat.

pharael tweets: I finally made up my mind for Kadima. Read pharael's tweets.

1145 Security forces throughout Israel have been placed on high alert for election day. The military announced the closure of the West Bank on Monday night, barring Palestinians from entering Israel except for urgent medical treatment. Some 16,000 policemen and border guard officers, as well as about 2,500 volunteers and 4,500 security guards have been assigned to polling stations.

Katya Adler
1140 The BBC's Katya Adler says: If you go on the streets of Israel and talk to people, they say they are really fed up with their politicians, who they say are surrounded by repeated corruption scandals, out of touch with their people, and self-interested. There is also a feeling that whoever wins, it will not make much of a difference. Coalitions in Israel tend to large, unwieldy and fractious and many Israelis feel the government will not be able to achieve much.

1135 We have been focusing on the four leading parties so far, but we should not forget the 29 others fielding candidates today. They include Green Leaf, which supports the legalisation of marijuana, the Holocaust Survivors, the Pensioners Party, several Arab parties and a joint venture of moderate Orthodox Jews and environmentalists. Few are expected to win representation. A party must receive at least 2% of the vote to be get a seat in the Knesset.

e-mail sent in by reader
Gilad, Ramat Hasharon, Israel My wife and I just voted. The situation is confused with many people making up their mind at the very last moment, as they stand before the ballot box. We need a stable government chosen by the heart of the nation, not the extremists.

Tim Franks
1120 The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says: Israelis are, on the whole, proud of their democracy - albeit in the querulous, fractured, unstable form that most coalition governments seem to be these days. But for anyone in danger of feeling self-satisfied about the visit to the polling station today, Sima Kadmon, in the Yediot Ahranot newspaper, has some words for you:

"These elections will not cure us of our disgust for politics, and it is unlikely whether anyone will say today that this is democracy's finest hour," he says. "After such a loathed, unnecessary, empty election campaign, you can't even blame the weather." Happy voting.

1105 Hassan Abu Libdeh, a special advisor to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, tells the BBC that if Likud wins, Benjamin Netanyahu would need to change his agenda to achieve peace. "The best outcome is for the election to produce enough votes for those who are explicitly and directly supporting the peace process. Of course this is probably wishful thinking," he says. "At this stage all indications suggest that Mr Netanyahu will be getting the most out of it… He has to re-work his own agenda in order to come to the realities of the situation on the ground."

Israeli votes

1100 Early turnout in the general election in Israel has been slightly higher than in the 2006 election, despite bad weather and predictions to the contrary. The Israeli Central Election committee said 23.4% of those eligible to vote had done so by 1200 local time - a moderate increase in voter turnout from the 2006 election (21.6%).

e-mail sent in by reader
Sahar, Tel Aviv, Israel says: Ideologically I'm a Meretz voter (left-wing) but they're always irrelevant, they end up with the same five mandates and they won't join the coalition, so it's a waste of a vote. It's my first time voting and Barak is going to get my vote.

1050 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been careful not to publicly voice a preference for any particular party (perhaps for fear of damaging their chances), but he is hoping whoever wins resumes peace talks. "I don't know who will win the elections, but we will co-operate with any new Israeli government emerging from the elections on the basis of the bilateral accords and the international resolutions which have been adopted," he said.

e-mail sent in by reader
Doron, London, UK : My parents who are in Israel will both be voting for Liberman. My brother who has just come out of Gaza as a soldier has already voted Liberman.

1045 Gerald Steinberg, a political analyst, tells the BBC that he does not think the new government will be dominated by right-ring parties. "There are 33 parties, about 10 of them are likely to get some seats," he says. "After the excitement is over, it's more likely that we'll see a centrist government, perhaps with all three major parties working together. That seems to be a likely coalition."

e-mail sent in by reader
H, Tivon, Israel says: I voted early to avoid the rain. In spite of the hour, I was surprised to meet so many of my neighbours at the polling places.

The four main party leaders cast their votes

1030 Police have had to whisk right-wing National Union MK Aryeh Eldad away from the Israeli-Arab town of Umm al-Fahm after protestors tore down the fence of a polling station he was overseeing. Mr Eldad had been sent to replace right-wing activist Baruch Marzel, who was barred by police from entering the northern town after threats from residents opposed to his presence there.

Israeli Arabs protest in Umm al-Fahm (10 February 2009)

Tim Franks
1015 The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says: I shared a coffee with three voters - all of whom have very different views. Michal is a student who's voting for Kadima; she remains optimistic - unlike many of her compatriots - about the chances for a peace deal with the Palestinians. She says that the fact that Kadima's leader, Tzipi Livni, is a woman matters: women are better at handling negotiations.

Amir is a law lecturer who's voting for the small, left-wing Hadash party; he's feeling much bleaker about Israel's prospects. He says it has lost its founding ideals. And Michael, a lawyer who'll be voting for the hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. He says it has the courage to raise issues - in particular, what to do with Israel's large Arab minority - which, for too long have been "swept under the carpet".

e-mail sent in by reader
Jonathan, Israel says: I cast my vote for Likud and Netanyahu this morning. Over the past decade he has been the best finance and foreign minister for Israel. Likud has the best economic policies, educational reform policies, and has mooted the idea of electoral reform.

1000 Following a company tradition of altering its logo on important occasions, Google Israel is marking election day with a special graphic. The "g" is wearing a badge saying "elections" in Hebrew.

Google Israel logo

e-mail sent in by reader
Meira, Israel, says: We just went out to vote between heavy rain showers. We pray we will get a stable government to replace the current useless lot, and get leaders who care about the true needs of our state, and not just their political careers.

0955 An Israeli Arab politician who is standing in the election, Ahmad Tibi, tells the BBC he is concerned about the rise of right-wing politics. "This country is lurching to the right," he says. "We are watching the ongoing phenomena of fascism and racism in Israel with the increase in power of Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, which is… calling for transferring and deporting Arabs and disqualifying Arab MPs from being elected."

0945 Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who voted at a polling station near his home in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, called on "all of Israel's citizens - Christians, Muslims and Jews" to go out and vote, adding: "Those who have followed the election campaign know that there is one party that can get the job done."

0940 Eight Israelis from across the political spectrum have been telling the BBC who they will vote for in the general election and why. Read their comments here: Israeli elections: Voters' views

0930 Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, have cast their votes in Jerusalem. "This felt good," he said afterwards. "The people want a change and they will choose it today. Those who want to embark on a new path would rally with the Likud and with me."

Wyre Davies
0920 The BBC's Wyre Davis in Jerusalem says: It's been pretty slow this morning, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the campaign was lacklustre - a lot of Israeli voters are disappointed with the calibre of the candidates, many of whom they have seen before. The other problem is the very inclement, wintery weather across Israel today. Many people think there may be a record low turnout.

Adam Mynott
The BBC's Adam Mynott in Jerusalem says: The polls are open and have been now for several hours - President Shimon Peres has just cast his vote here. Election day is a national holiday to encourage or allow people to go and vote. But if this polling station in the middle of Jerusalem is anything to go by, Israelis are not flocking to cast their ballots. In fact, this election has attracted a lacklustre response.

Front cover of Maariv (10 February 2009)
0915 Acknowledging the closeness of the race, the Maariv newspaper has published a reversible front page with portraits of Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, each captioned: "The next prime minister."

The reader can then choose which way up to hold the paper.

urig tweets: Low voter turnout an issue in today's Israel elections. To non-voters I say: fine by me - the less people vote, the more my vote counts! Read urig's tweets.

e-mail sent in by reader
Yair, Mazkeret Batya, Israel says: This is by far one of the more dull elections I've seen in Israel. There were few demonstrations and people seem very indifferent. Many of my friends have told me, much to my dismay, that they are not planning to vote.

0900 Labour leader Ehud Barak, Israel's current defence minister, has also cast his ballot at a polling station in Tel Aviv. "I am sure we will emerge stronger from this day," he said. "The public believes that a strong Labour party can be an alternative to the Right."

comment from blogger
Yossi Verter of Haaretz writes: What started as one of the most boring, low-energy campaigns in memory has almost overnight turned into a political drama... But it is a drama with definite limits: It is already clear that the Likud-rightist-religious bloc will come out ahead. The question that generates the drama - whether Likud or Kadima will emerge as the largest party - is actually of secondary importance... The candidate who gets the president's nod to try to form a government next week will be the one with the best chance of doing so. Read

0850 Perhaps Ms Livni's confidence in her supporters' ability to cope with the poor weather stems from its apparently deep pockets. Labour and Likud have complained that their budgets cannot stretch to umbrellas and free transport like Kadima. "All of Kadima's activists get paid, but I'm sure the Likud members' motivation will prevail," said Reuven Rivlin, who heads Likud's election day headquarters.

yarival tweets: National elections here in Israel and I just voted. Hoping for a better future because it's about time. Read yarival's tweets.

0840 Kadima leader Tzipi Livni has cast her vote in Tel Aviv. At the end of the final day of campaigning on Monday, she was optimistic. "I know we will win, because that's the right thing and it's what will happen," she told the newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. Referring to concerns that the weather might deter people from voting, she said: "Rain shouldn't scare people who are deciding their fate."

0830 The Haaretz newspaper says neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Tzipi Livni would be ideal, but endorses Ms Livni because she supports peace talks - "the most important issue at stake".

e-mail sent in by reader
Andrea Moriah, Har Adar, Israel says: I am thinking about voting Bibi, but afraid he'll be pulled too far right. I want to vote Tzipi, but don't think she can pull it off. I'm thinking of tipping the balance with Barak, but know he's an anti-democrat. I'm off to vote.

0815 The BBC's Lyse Doucet says: The stormy weather is causing concern in an election in which every vote counts. The parties are worried that their supporters may not want to go out to cast their ballot. Some of the parties have even bought thousands of umbrellas to make sure they can get as many people out to vote as possible.

0810 Israel has a system of proportional representation, where voters choose to back one of the parties, rather than an individual. The 120 seats in the Knesset are allocated in proportion to the number of votes each party receives. Candidates are allocated seats according to the order in which they appear on their party's list.

Tim Franks
0808The BBC's Tim Franks says: Avigdor Lieberman advocates re-drawing Israel's borders, he wants to annex some of the major Jewish settlements on occupied territory in the West Bank while handing over Israeli-Arab areas to the control of the Palestinians. Mr Lieberman is very unlikely to be prime minister, but he is likely to be a major player in the negotiations to build a governing coalition.

0805 Opinion polls suggest the result will be close, after the centrist Kadima party headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made up ground during the campaign on the front-runner, the right-wing Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu. The polls also point to a strong performance by the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by Avigdor Lieberman.

0803 Voting started three hours ago (0700 local time) and will close at 2000 GMT (2200 local time). Some 5.3 million people are eligible to vote in more than 9,000 polling stations nationwide. However, heavy rain and strong winds forecast in many areas are expected to reduce the number of voters who turn out.

Man walks past Israeli election poster for Labour Party (29 January 2009)

0800 Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the Israeli general election. We will be updating this page throughout the day, bringing you insights from BBC correspondents, some of your emails and Twitter, and the best of the blogs, TV and press.

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