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  1. #1

    Internal Israeli matters

    New, long-term, thread, solely for news and articles related to Internal Israeli Matters with no, or limited, external aspects.................

    Shimon Peres condemns ultra-orthodox extremists as tensions escalate

    Israel's president says minority threaten national values as TV news shows sobbing 8-year-old recounting ordeal

    Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem

    guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 December 2011 19.39 GMT

    Naama Margolese, 8, with her mother Hadassa in their home in Beit Shemesh. Her story on Israeli television news drew fresh attention to the tensions between ultra-orthodox extremists and the rest of the population. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP

    Haredi = Israel's own ultra-Fascists............

    When you get Religious Extremists attacking Orthodox Jews for being female, then the World is becoming out-of-kilter. The current Government's lacklustre and weak responses to these nut-jobs only compounds the problem.

    Israel's president urged "the entire nation" to support the battle "to save the majority from the hands of a small minority" on Tuesday, amid rising tensions between the country's secular and religious Jews on one side and extremist ultra-orthodox groups on the other.

    "We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state," Shimon Peres said as thousands of Israelis gathered for a protest following an attack on an eight-year-old girl for dressing "immodestly".

    Tuesday's demonstration in the town of Beit Shemesh took place close to a school at which girls as young as six have been targeted by zealous ultra-orthodox, or Haredi, men for dressing in regulation knee-length skirts and tops with sleeves to at least the elbow.

    Haredi protesters have spat and shouted "whore" and "Nazi" at the pupils and their mothers. Earlier this week, Israeli television news broadcast footage of Naama Margolese, eight, sobbing as she described being abused and spat at on the street by Haredi men. The girl comes from an orthodox Jewish family and attends Orot girls school, which serves religious Jewish families in the area.

    Two days of rioting and attacks on television crews by zealous Haredi men in Beit Shemesh followed the broadcast.

    Beit Shemesh has become a focal point of tensions between extremist Haredi groups, whose numbers in the city are increasing, and its majority religious-nationalist population. The Haredim are opposed to the location of the girls' school next to an ultra-orthodox enclave.

    But there has been mounting concern in recent months over broader demands by extremist Haredim to remove images of women from advertising billboards in Jerusalem, enforce gender segregation on public transport, in shops and medical centres, and ban women soldiers from taking part in singing and dancing events organised by the army.

    Last week a woman bus passenger made headlines when she refused to comply with a demand from a Haredi man on the bus that she move to the rear. A policeman called by the driver also asked the woman to move. When she continued to refuse, the Haredi man disembarked.

    Despite an Israeli court ruling outlawing enforced segregation on buses earlier this year, "voluntary segregation" is permitted. Women mainly sit at the back and men mainly at the front on some routes in Jerusalem.

    Peres told reporters at his official residence that Tuesday's protest against ultra-orthodox extremism was "a test in which the entire nation will have to mobilise to rescue the majority from the claws of a small minority that is chipping away at our most hallowed values".

    He added: "No person has the right to threaten a girl, a woman or any person in any way. They are not the lords of this land."

    His comments followed similar criticism of extremist ultra-orthodox groups by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, earlier this week. He told cabinet colleagues there was no place for harassment or sex discrimination in Israel's "democratic, Western, liberal state".

    The police, he said, would arrest people who "spit, harass or raise a hand". But, Netanyahu added, this was a social issue, not just a legal one, and required action by public figures and religious leaders. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, also criticised gender segregation and the exclusion of women from the public sphere earlier this month, saying it was reminiscent of extremist regimes.

    The Haredim in Israel are about 10% of the population, but form a far higher proportion in cities such as Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

    Extremist protesters are a small minority within the ultra-orthodox community and many Haredi leaders have spoken out against their views and actions. Peres acknowledged that most Haredim did not support the extremists. "The ultra-orthodox public in Israel as a whole opposes these phenomena and condemns them," he said. "It is important that they continue to do so and to speak in a loud and clear voice."

  2. #2

    Religious limits on women spur controversy in Israel

    By Joel Greenberg, Wednesday, December 28, 9:12 AM

    BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — A sign outside a row of synagogues directing women to walk on the other side of the street has turned this town near Jerusalem into a front line of a raging national debate about the imposition of strict social codes by ultra-Orthodox zealots.

    A community of 86,000 about a half-hour’s drive from Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh has a growing ultra-Orthodox population. The town has become a cauldron of tension in recent days, with crowds of black-cloaked men assaulting television crews and facing off with police, pelting them with rocks and eggs.

    The trigger for the violence was a wave of Israeli media reports about ultra-Orthodox Jews in the town who had put up the controversial sign and hounded local religious schoolgirls, spitting and hurling abuse at them for what they deemed insufficiently modest dress.

    The plight of one frightened girl, 8-year-old Naama Margolese, was highlighted Friday in a prime-time television report, along with the sign ordering sidewalk segregation, fueling the debate in Israel over attempts to limit the public visibility of women — a growing trend that has generated an angry backlash.

    On Tuesday night, thousands of Israelis gathered in Beit Shemesh to protest religious coercion and the attempts to sideline women. Some held up signs that said: “Exclusion of women is my red line.”

    In broadcast remarks hours earlier, President Shimon Peres urged people to attend the rally. “We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state,” he said.


    The sign in question, posted in front of three synagogues in a strictly religious section of Beit Shemesh, said, “Women are requested to move to the sidewalk across the street, not to pass near the synagogues, and certainly not to loiter on this sidewalk, which serves the synagogue-goers.” An arrow pointed the way to the other side of the street.

    After the media reports and a directive announced Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sign was removed by city workers, but it was promptly replaced by activists with cardboard placards and a large banner that carried a similar message in bold red letters.

    The prohibition on passage of women near the synagogues stems from a strict interpretation of religious restrictions on women mixing with men. Women enter the synagogues through separate doors and pray in separate sections.

    When crowds of male worshipers emerge from the synagogues onto the sidewalk, it would be improper for women to walk among them, people living nearby said. “It’s uncomfortable and undignified,” said one woman, who added that she voluntarily crossed the street to avoid such mingling.

    The developments in Beit Shemesh have been denounced by Israeli cabinet ministers, rights advocates and moderate Orthodox leaders, who described them as a perversion of Jewish law and an assault on civil rights, particularly the rights of women.

    “Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state,” Netanyahu said at the weekly meeting of his cabinet Sunday. “In a Western liberal democracy, public space is open and safe for all — men and women alike — and has no room for any harassment or discrimination.”

    Haim Amsalem, an independent ultra-Orthodox legislator, visited Naama’s family Monday and said the harassment that she and other girls faced and the sidewalk segregation “have no place in sane and moderate Judaism.”

    ‘A slippery slope’

    The events in Beit Shemesh are seen by many Israelis as symptomatic of a growing encroachment of religious zealotry into the public sphere.

    In Jerusalem, activists have organized to fight the exclusion of women’s images from advertising billboards in the city after signs showing women were defaced and damaged by ultra-Orthodox extremists.

    A young woman attracted national attention this month when she refused to give up her seat in the front of an inter-city bus when passengers boarding in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood demanded she move to the back. Despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that banned segregation on public buses, ultra-Orthodox women sit in the rear of buses serving their communities, with men in the front.

    A group of religious army cadets was dismissed from an officers training course in September after it walked out of a singing performance by female soldiers, citing a religious prohibition against hearing women sing. Israel’s chief rabbis have pressed the army to exempt observant soldiers who wish to avoid such performances, but the army chief of staff said Tuesday that their attendance will continue to be required in official military ceremonies.

    Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who is president of Hiddush, a nonprofit group that advocates for religious freedom in Israel, said the creeping restrictions were “a slippery slope” that could lead to more bans imposed under ultra-Orthodox pressure.

    “The question is: What kind of a country is Israel going to be, and will it be governed by the rule of law?” he said.

    In the ultra-Orthodox areas of Beit Shemesh, graffiti on walls exhort women to “dress modestly.” One black-cloaked man who chased a reporter out of a shop Monday told him: “This is Iran,” a reference to the Islamic Republic, where women are required by law to cover their heads and bodies in public.

    Walking with her children through a downtown square, Esther, an ultra-Orthodox woman who identified herself only by her first name, said she was baffled by the sudden burst of interest in her community’s way of life.

    “Why does it bother them?” she asked, adding that she was more than happy to sit in the back of the bus or cross the street near her neighborhood synagogue to maintain strict separation between the sexes. “It’s not demeaning,” she said. “I feel uncomfortable when men look at me.”

  3. #3

    Star of David patches at ultra-Orthodox Jew demonstration causes outrage

    Israeli Holocaust survivors and political leaders condemn protesters who also donned concentration camp uniforms

    Associated Press in Jerusalem

    guardian.co.uk, Sunday 1 January 2012 16.59 GMT

    Children from ultra-Orthodox Jewish families wearing the Star of David patch at a demonstration in Jerusalem. Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP

    Israeli Holocaust survivors and political leaders have expressed outrage over a Jerusalem demonstration at which ultra-Orthodox Jews donned Star of David patches and uniforms similar to those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during World War II.

    Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on Saturday night to protest against what they say is a nationwide campaign directed against their lifestyle. for strict separation of the sexes, rejected by mainstream Israelis as religious coercion. Actions such as jeering at girls for dressing immodestly have unleashed a backlash against ultra-Orthodox Jews in general.

    Ultra-Orthodox extremists have been under fire for their attempts to ban mixing of the sexes on buses, and other public spaces. In one city, extremists have jeered and spit at girls walking to school, saying they are dressed immodestly. These practices, albeit by a fringe sect, have unleashed a backlash against the ultra-Orthodox in general.

    At Saturday's protest, children with traditional sidelocks wore the striped black-and-white uniforms associated with Nazi concentration camps. One child's hands were raised in surrender – mimicking an iconic photo of a terrified Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto.

    Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial called the use of Nazi imagery "disgraceful," and several other survivors' groups and politicians condemned the acts.

    Six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. About 200,000 aging survivors of the Holocaust live in Israel.

    The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, an umbrella organisation of survivors, expressed its "utter contempt at this disgraceful exploitation" of the Nazi symbols.

    "We who survived and witnessed these Nazi crimes are particularly offended that demonstrators so blithely used children in this public outrage. They have insulted the memory of all the Jewish victims, including those who were ultra-Orthodox," the organisation's vice president, Elan Steinberg, said in a statement.

    Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called on the ultra-Orthodox leadership to condemn the display.

    "This is a terrible offence against the memory of the Holocaust victims who were forced, secular and ultra-Orthodox alike, to wear the yellow star in the ghetto on their way to extermination, and there is no demonstration in the world that can justify this."

  4. #4

    Israel Hikes Defense Spending By $700 Million


    Published: 8 Jan 2012 21:00

    JERUSALEM - Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu announced Jan. 8 an increase of nearly $700 million in the defense budget, after saying last year that he would cut military spending to finance social reforms.

    "We are going to add three million shekels to the defense budget," Netanyahu said at a news conference.

    Netanyahu had in October supported the recommendations of a report he commissioned, by respected economist Manuel Trajtenberg, which were intended to address rising frustrations about the cost of living and income disparity in the Jewish state that triggered mass protests last year.

    One of the Trajtenberg report's proposals was to cut a defense budget that amounts to around $14 billion, of which $3 billion comes in annual U.S. military aid, to finance a series of social initiatives without increasing the deficit.

    "I have reflected on this question, but in view of what has happened in the region, I have reached the conclusion that cutting the defense budget would be a mistake, even a big mistake," Netanyahu said.

    "Any sensible person can see what is happening around us. ... All these changes have strategic implications for the national security of the state of Israel, for our ability to face the new challenges and instability," he told a weekly cabinet meeting, according to a statement from his office.

    The Israeli army "is the shield of the country, which is why we must increase its means," he added.

    The prime minister said that in return for the spending increase, the defense ministry would have to respect the principle of transparency, which would allow the government to monitor the management of the budget.

    "In the past, we discovered things late, whereas now we will become aware of them in real time," Netanyahu said.

    Israel's cabinet in October approved the recommended economic reforms outlined by the 267-page Trajtenberg report, which covered housing, competitiveness, social services, education and taxation.

  5. #5

    Israeli parliament debate turns ugly as politician throws water over colleague

    Anastasia Michaeli faces suspension for her outburst after being told to 'shut up' during row over human rights rally


    guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 January 2012 23.19 GMT

    Ultranationalist Anastasia Michaeli attacks Arab colleague Ghaleb Majadleh in Israeli parliament. Source: YouTube

    This is mild to the point of almost being innocuous, take a look at some of the sessions in the Taiwanese and Korean parliaments!

    An ultranationalist Israeli parliament member faced possible suspension from the Knesset on Monday for hurling a cup of water at an Arab colleague when he told her to "shut up" during exchanges over school students attending human rights rally.

    Ghaleb Majadleh, an Israeli Arab member of the Labour party, had protested at an education panel meeting to reprimand an Arab school principal for letting pupils attend a human rights group rally. "You are inciting against the state," retorted Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the rightwing Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party.

    When Majadleh told her to "shut up" Michaeli rose from her seat, poured water into a plastic cup and threw it at Majadleh, hitting his face and jacket, before heading for the door.

    The outburst was not unusual for Israel's raucous parliament but many see the violent nature of the argument as a sign of rising political tensions, spurred on by speculation that national elections may be held earlier than 2013.

    Michaeli later told reporters Majadleh had been rude. "If there are no men in the Israeli Knesset willing to defend women, then I will defend myself, the honour of my party and of the Knesset," she said.

    Majadleh, a former cabinet minister and the only Israeli Arab citizen ever to hold such a position, accused Michaeli of provocation and denied insulting her.

    Michaeli's party scolded her, issuing a statement that she had been told "no circumstances could justify such behaviour", but also accused Majadleh of provoking her outburst.

    Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he would lodge a complaint with the house's ethics committee over Michaeli's action, which he called "an insult to the entire Knesset".

    Israeli media said Michaeli could be suspended temporarily from her post. This is the second time she faces censure. She was removed from a debate a year ago after trying to interrupt a speech by another Arab parliamentarian, Haneen Zoabi.

    Rivlin said the incident was part of "an atmosphere as though elections are soon to be held". He said there was possibility of further "gimmicks and hijinks for which the Knesset and Israeli democracy are likely to pay the price."

    Israel's next parliamentary election is scheduled to be held in 2013, but speculation has been rife that it may be brought forward, following prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's call for a snap leadership vote of Likud party later this month.

  6. #6

    Culture war looms as Israel pledges to end ultra-Orthodox military exemptions

    By Karin Brulliard, Saturday, May 12, 2:49 AM

    JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dramatically bolstered his ruling coalition this week with a unity deal meant to help him thwart challenges from fringe factions. But Yoel Krois, a man with sidelocks past his shoulders and a record of confronting authorities, says he remains ready for a fight.

    From his cramped Jerusalem office, Krois pens broadsides that paper his ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and serve as religious proclamations on issues of the day. One of the newest tells readers to resist a brewing plot to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israeli military.

    (Abir Sultan/AP) - An Israeli soldier from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish unit in the Israeli army holds a gun during a training session in 2005. Military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox religious students have fueled resentment among Israel’s secular majority.

    “We will go to prison instead,” said Krois, 39, sitting beneath a photograph of himself defying police as he and fellow activists with an anti-Zionist organization known as Edah Haredit protested the opening of a parking lot on the Jewish Sabbath. “We are protected by God.”

    When Netanyahu and the leader of the centrist opposition party Kadima joined forces, they said their first priority would be a law ending widespread military exemptions for full-time religious students. Long-neglected, the issue has spiraled into a public policy nightmare: Not fixing it would perpetuate a system that the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled is unconstitutional. Fixing it could spark a culture war, as Netanyahu suggested when he vowed Thursday to make reforms “without setting public against public.”

    Some say it is too late. Resentment against the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim, is intense among Israel’s secular majority and a growing number of officials. While the current debate centers on the military - universal conscription is central to Israeli identity - many say the issue is more broadly about spreading the burdens of citizenship to a subsidized, insular group that is expanding in size and influence.

    “There is internal turmoil. It’s social, it’s economic, and it goes to the soul of Israel,” said Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who is president of Hiddush, a religious freedom organization that is critical of ultra-Orthodox military exemptions. “The way of life that the Haredim adopt challenges our stability.”

    Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, granted military exemptions to what was then a few hundred Haredi students, in part because it was assumed their lifestyle would fade over time. Today, the ultra-Orthodox comprise one-tenth of Israel’s 7.8 million citizens, and 63,000 received exemptions for religious study in 2010.

    In February, Israel’s Supreme Court annulled a decade-old law created to increase ultra-Orthodox participation in the army, saying it had largely failed. Last year, 15 percent of recruitment-age Haredim enlisted, compared to 75 percent in the rest of the Jewish population. The government pledged this week to craft a replacement that also drafts more Arab Israelis, who are not required to serve.

    “This issue where some serve and others do not is a moral stain on Israeli society,” said Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz.

    The ultra-Orthodox, while a varied group, are resistant to military service, some zealously so. Most believe the Jewish state should not exist before the Messiah’s arrival, and they insulate themselves from what they regard as the impious influences of the secular world. Their views are increasingly sparking controversies, including over Haredi demands for gender segregation on public buses.

    For Haredi men, life centers on the revival of Torah scholarship, which was largely decimated during the Holocaust. Yitzhak Goldknopf, a prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem, said that makes study at religious academies, or yeshivas, as important to the Jewish state as military service.

    “The new generation doesn’t remember what happened in Europe, and they do not know that without the Torah, we would not exist today,” Goldknopf said. “Yeshiva students will exist until their last drop of blood. There is no compromise on this.”

    Goldknopf said secular society has excluded them and used them as political punching bags. Then again, he said, he does not believe for one second that the ultra-Orthodox will be drafted.

    That is because the Haredim have gained political clout as their population flourished. Over the years, small ultra-Orthodox political parties have sided with coalition governments -- sometimes helping them survive -- in exchange for subsidies and tax breaks for their communities. Ultra-orthodox parties remain in Netanyahu’s new coalition, but its expansion is likely to decrease their power.

    So hopes Boaz Nol, who says he is far more representative of mainstream Israel than the black-hatted Haredi men who dot the stone sidewalks of Jerusalem. From his base an hour’s drive away in the strongly secular beach city of Tel Aviv, the army reservist and investment banker began a protest movement against Haredi exemptions. It has earned him audiences with Netanyahu and, he said, conversations with “yeshiva boys” who whisper to him that they want to join up.

    “It’s about the most basic value that we all grow up with - that we all serve in the army,” said Nol, 34, sitting under an umbrella at a stylish café with his dog, Beyonce. “The Israeli public will not agree to such obvious discrimination.”

    Economists warn that the exemptions, by requiring full-time yeshiva study, contribute to growing Haredi poverty. About 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men are unemployed. Women often work, but one income does not go far in families with an average of more than six children.

    The combination of high fertility rates, poverty and an ultra-Orthodox school system that does not teach a broad curriculum is unsustainable, said Dan Ben-Taub, executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

    “They are going to be the future of our country,” he said. “Their skills fit a merchant class of the 19th century.”

    A small but growing number of ultra-Orthodox agree. Aryeh Goldhaber, a 41-year-old Haredi furniture salesman in the town of Beit Shemesh, helped found an advocacy group for working Haredim, who he said often feel treated like second-class citizens by ultra-Orthodox who devote their lives to study and prayer.

    A Haredi newspaper recently described members of his group as turncoats who are “importing poison.” Goldhaber said rabbis increasingly listen to his arguments - that he can study Torah many hours a day while also providing for his family - but are not yet willing to provide public backing.

    “They’re afraid they’re going to lose their influence,” said Goldhaber, who served in the army.

    Everyone agrees that crafting a new law for exemptions will be complex. Most proposals suggest a capped number of exemptions for top Haredi students and gradual rises in enlistment or civil service for others.

    But drafting ultra-Orthodox en masse would be nearly impossible, said Stuart Cohen, a political studies professor at Bar-Ilan University who has long focused on the issue. Providing the gender-segregated facilities, prayer time and strictly kosher rations Haredim demand would be “intolerable” to the army and cost-prohibitive, he said.

    Cohen said he believes the only solution is ending universal conscription, freeing Haredim to work. But that is not on the table.

    “There is tremendous ingrained cultural commitment to the idea of a people’s army,” Cohen said. “So I think we’re just going to stumble from crisis to crisis.”

    Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.

  7. #7

    Bit of an embarrasment here. I'm sure a certain base commander (at the least!) is in a lot of hot water right now

    F-16 Engines Stolen from IAF Base

    IAF belatedly finds that several engines have been stolen. Arab metal thieves with help from the inside are suspected.

    By Gil Ronen
    First Publish: 12/6/2012, 9:00 AM

    The Air Force has discovered in recent days that several F-16 fighter jet engines were stolen from one of its bases, news website Walla reported Thursday.

    Senior IAF sources said that the thieves who stole the engines had to have been assisted by someone within the base. This determination is based, among other things, on the fact that there was no damage to the base's perimeter fence. This leads investigators to believe that the thieves went in and out through the gates. They must have done this with a large vehicle, since the engines weigh over 1.5 tons and are more than 15 feet long.

    No suspects have been arrested yet in the theft, which is the first of its kind in the IAF's history and marks a low point in its ability to secure its own bases. The most likely possibility is that the engines were stolen by Arab metal thieves, weapons dealers or terror-related agents.


  8. #8
    Supreme Overlord ARH v.4.0's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    The fifth circle of hell

    Didn't something similar happen in Singapore or Malaysia not that long ago?

    The darkest hour of Humanity is upon us. The world
    shall meet it's end and we shall be submerged into a
    new dark age. Repent your sins, for the apocalypse,
    and the end, is extremely f@#king nigh!

  9. #9

    Yep, F-5 Tiger II engines from Malaysia. They were found somewhere in South America as I recall...

  10. #10

    Israel approves another 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem

    Plan brings total approvals to 5,500 in just over a week as right urges Binyamin Netanyahu to drop two-state solution pledge

    Peter Beaumont

    guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 December 2012 13.41 GMT

    Binyamin Netanyahu, who is said to be under pressure to drop a commitment to a two-state solution from his election platform. Photograph: Reuters

    Israel has given the green light for the fast-track development of a further 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem. It brings the total number of new approvals to 5,500 in just over a week, the largest wave of proposed expansion in recent memory.

    The latest plan, which would see almost 1,000 new apartments built over Jerusalem's green line in Gilo, comes as the Israeli media is reporting mounting pressure on the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to drop his commitment to a two-state solution from his platform for re-election in January.

    The agreement for the Gilo development is only the latest in wave of settlement approvals in Jerusalem agreed by the country's interior ministry and Jerusalem municipality's planning committees before Christmas.

    That included proposals, which attracted international criticism, to develop the controversial E1 block to the east of Jerusalem.

    Although Netanyahu, who leads a coalition with the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, is still expected to win the most seats in the 22 January vote, a new poll suggests he has been losing ground since Lieberman was indicted on anti-trust charges this month and forced to step down as foreign minister.

    A poll conducted by Dialog gives 35 of parliament's 120 seats to Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu list, down from 39 in the previous Dialog survey. The centrist Labor party polled second, with 17 seats.

    The poll shows a continued surge by the rightwing Jewish Home party. Its leader, Naftali Bennett, stirred up a storm last week by saying he would resist evacuating settlements if ordered to do so as a reserves soldier.

    The issue of Israel's illegal settlements has come to be a lightning-rod issue in the elections, even as Israel has faced mounting pressure to halt settlement expansion.

    The latest wave of approvals followed a vote in the UN's general assembly to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to observer status at the United Nations despite US and Israeli opposition.

    With some critics of Israeli settlement policy arguing that the latest approvals mark the death knell for the two-state solution, it has emerged that some members of Netanyahu's own party are also pushing for him to remove his commitment to a future Palestinian state from his election platform.

    Netanyahu signed up to the two-state solution in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, but senior officials from his party, who spoke anonymously to Haaretz, told the paper he was facing increasing pressure to abandon that position.

    "Dividing the land will bring about Israel's destruction," one senior Likud official told the newspaper. "We've said that in the past and we say it today. How does this sit with recognising a Palestinian state?"

    A second senior party official added: "Likud's platform to date has not recognised the establishment of a Palestinian state, and Yisrael Beiteinu rejects outright the possibility that a Palestinian state could be established alongside Israel."

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