Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party face challenges from the left and right in today's Israeli elections — in which approaches to a potential Palestinian state and the economy have emerged as top issues.
"Netanyahu trailed in the final opinion polls [behind] the center-left Zionist Union ticket, which says it will focus on economic issues and trying to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians," NPR's Emily Harris reports from Jerusalem. "Hours before voting started, Netanyahu came out against a Palestinian state at this time — a position long held by his main rival on the right."
The voting began this morning and will continue until 10 p.m. local time; that's when the first exit poll results should come out — around 4 p.m. ET.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz is live-blogging today's vote; it reports that in the first three hours of polls being open, nearly 14 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots. It adds that the rate is "20 percent higher" than the previous two elections.
Netanyahu has been the focus of controversy over his recent speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, a trip that deepened tensions with the White House. The prime minister's opponents seized on the opportunity to say they would work to strengthen ties with America's leaders to ensure their country's security.
Emily tells Morning Edition that if his party doesn't win outright, Netanyahu could still remain in power.
"Even if his Likud party doesn't emerge with the most votes," she says, "he could be the one who could negotiate successfully among the 11 or 12 parties that are supposed to get in parliament, and build a coalition government out of that, with him at the helm."
Because election day is a holiday in Israel, many people are expected to get outdoors to take advantage of what the Haaretz newspaper says will be nice weather.