Israel PM makes last shot for rightwing vote at rally

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a last-ditch effort Sunday to garner support at a mass rightwing rally in Tel Aviv where he pledged he would never make territorial concessions.

Tel Aviv: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a last-ditch effort Sunday to garner support at a mass rightwing rally in Tel Aviv where he pledged he would never make territorial concessions.

Netanyahu`s speech, which addressed security concerns and praised Jewish tradition, came hours after he attempted to draw centrist votes to his Likud party, flagging in opinion polls behind the Zionist Union coalition.

"As long as Likud is in power, we won`t divide Jerusalem," he said to cheers. Palestinians want Israeli-controlled east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

"There will be no concessions or withdrawals. There is a real danger the left will take power," he said.

Netanyahu also promised participants he would include the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home in his coalition if he forms the government, in an attempt to draw votes away from that party to Likud.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who spoke after Netanyahu, has been trying to attract Likud voters, stressing that this would not jeopardise Netanyahu`s chances of forming a coalition.

At the rally, he also emphasised the importance of Jewish tradition in the upcoming government.

Israel goes to the polls on Tuesday for its second general election in as many years, with pundits unanimous that the vote will be a referendum on six consecutive years of Netanyahu as premier.

Organisers had anticipated at least 30,000 people at the Tel Aviv rally, while officials estimated at least 15,000 attended.

One demonstrator who stood out was Sheikh Salem Hezair, a Bedouin from the southern town Rahat, who came wearing his keffiyeh headscarf."Nobody can replace him," he said of Netanyahu. "He`s the best leader you could have for this hazardous region," the 30-year-Likud member told AFP.

Netanyahu has run a campaign focused squarely on security issues, arguing that only he is capable of protecting Israel from an Iranian nuclear threat and warning that security will be at risk in case of victory for his rivals, the centre-left Zionist Union.

But on the street, voters appeared more concerned by the increasingly unmanageable cost of living and the Jewish state`s housing crisis.

With the last opinion polls showing a consistent erosion in support for his rightwing Likud, Netanyahu on Sunday launched a last-ditch charm offensive to lure the support of centre-right Kulanu.

Ahead of the rally, he gave interviews to Israel`s two main radio stations and said he would be willing to hand the powerful finance portfolio to Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon.

"I cannot form a government without him. However many seats his party wins, he will get the post of finance minister," Netanyahu told army radio.

A popular former Likud minister, Kahlon -- whose party is forecast to win between eight and 10 seats -- is expected to play the role of kingmaker after Tuesday`s vote.

But Kahlon dismissed the offer as "spin", saying Netanyahu had not made good on similar promises in the past.In a poll published in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot on Friday, the Zionist Union was in the lead to take 26 of the Knesset`s 120 seats, followed by 22 for Likud.

Under Israel`s complex electoral system, the task of forming a new government does not automatically fall to the party with the largest number of votes.

The winner -- and next premier -- will be the one who can succeed in cobbling together a coalition commanding a parliamentary majority.

Friday`s last-minute poll predicted the rightwing and religious bloc would win 56 seats with the same number going to centre-left and Arab parties.

And with Kulanu seen taking eight, Kahlon`s decision on who to back is likely to be crucial.

Isaac Herzog, who heads the Zionist Union with former peace negotiator and centrist HaTnuah leader Tzipi Livni, ridiculed Netanyahu`s latest offer.

"When Bibi goes down in the polls, he ups the lies," he wrote on Facebook.

He also addressed the issue of Jerusalem on Sunday, visiting the Western Wall in the Old City, the holiest site at which Jews are allowed to pray.

"I will know to safeguard Jerusalem and its residents in actions, not just words, more than any other leader," Herzog said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the southern West Bank city Hebron in a one-man rally aimed at winning last-minute votes.

"The real national camp is here today, not anywhere else," said Lieberman, who wants to become defence minister in Israel`s next government.

Lieberman`s Yisrael Beitenu party, members of which are being investigated by police after graft allegations, was expected to drop from its current 13 seats to between four and six.