Exit Polls Forecast Livni Over Netanyahu In Israel - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Exit Polls Forecast Livni Over Netanyahu In Israel

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JERUSALEM - Exit polls forecast that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party would eke out a surprising victory in Israel's election Tuesday, but a strong showing by hard-line rivals will make it difficult for her to form a coalition government.

The exit polls announced on Israeli TV stations gave the centrist Kadima a narrow edge over Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line Likud Party. The results, if confirmed, marked a stunning turn of events for Netanyahu, who had held a solid lead in opinion polls until just before the parliamentary election.

Cheers erupted at Kadima's election night headquarters as the exit polls were announced. In contrast, the mood at Likud's headquarters in Tel Aviv was dour.

If the exit poll predictions hold up - and they sometimes do not in a close election - it's not clear if Livni will be able to form Israel's next government and become prime minister. The projections said hard-line parties won 66 seats in the 120-member parliament, while liberal parties captured just 54 seats.

Such a result would mean that Livni would have to reach out to the hard-liners to bring them into a government, or even result in Likud leading the next government.

Preliminary results were expected early Wednesday.

In the coming days, President Shimon Peres will ask the leader who he believes is most capable of forming a coalition to try to put together a government.

"Bibi will be the next prime minister," said Gilad Erdan, a Likud lawmaker, using Netanyahu's nickname. "The right wing bloc won. It doesn't matter that he came in second. Bibi will be the next prime minister."

Israel's three main TV stations released exit polls as voting ended at 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Based on exit polls, Channel One and Channel 10 each gave 30 of 120 parliament seats to Kadima and 28 seats to Likud. Channel Two gave 29 seats to Kadima and 27 to Likud.

The polls said the ultranationalist party Israel Beitenu made a strong showing with at least 14 seats, giving it a strong voice in determining the makeup of the next government.

Israel Beitenu's ultranationalist leader, Avigdor Lieberman, has stoked controversy by proposing that Israel's Arab minority pledge loyalty to the country or be stripped of citizenship.

In fourth place was the centrist Labor Party, according to the polls, a poor showing for the party that led Israel for decades.

Livni was one of the architects of Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last month and has worked to present an image of herself as tough but sensible.

Netanyahu portrayed himself as the candidate best equipped to deal with the threats Israel faces - Hamas militants in Gaza, Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, and behind them an Iranian regime Israel believes is intent on developing nuclear weapons.

The national mood is at least partially linked to the rocket fire from Gaza that sparked Israel's offensive there, and to a sense among Israelis that territorial withdrawals like the 2005 Gaza pullout have only brought more violence.

Netanyahu opposes ceding land to the Palestinians and favors allowing Israeli settlements in the West Bank to expand, two points that are likely to put him on a collision course with the new U.S. administration.

Livni, who hopes to become the first woman to lead Israel in 35 years, has served as chief negotiator with the Palestinians and says a West Bank withdrawal is necessary for Israel's security.

With no clear majority expected in parliament, the winner is likely to be forced into a coalition with smaller parties. A fractious alliance unable to make difficult decisions could further complicate efforts to create a Palestinian state and pose a challenge to President Barack Obama, who has said he will become "aggressively" involved in pursuing Mideast peace.

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