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Israel Holds Breath Ahead Of Vote

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Israel is poised for Sunday's schedule vote for a new prime minister. Just over a week ago, a coalition announced that it had a slim majority in the Parliament for ousting Benjamin Netanyahu. He's held the job longer than anyone, and he's still fighting against the odds to hang on. The vote comes as other issues are simmering and will make for a tense couple days ahead. NPR's Kat Lonsdorf reports from Jerusalem. And just a warning - there are some startling noises.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: A few days ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the country.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

LONSDORF: "We are witnessing the greatest election fraud in the history of our country," he said. And his supporters have been taking to the streets...

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LONSDORF: ...Even as Israel's domestic security service warned of potential politically motivated violence. But it looks like a former Netanyahu ally, fellow right-winger Naftali Bennett, has a slim majority in the Parliament to form a new government on Sunday. He would replace Netanyahu as prime minister. In a statement, Bennett has pleaded with Netanyahu to, quote, "let go" and not leave "scorched earth" behind him. This new coalition is betting Israelis are ready for a change after 12 years of Netanyahu's fiery rhetoric. Jason Perlman is a media consultant who has worked with Bennett.

JASON PERLMAN: I think that what we can be sure of is a change in tone. I'm not suggesting agreement, but the ability to talk and communicate respectfully, certainly within the Israeli political spectrum, is something that many Israeli voters are looking forward to gleefully.

LONSDORF: There are other tensions this weekend, too. It's been only a few weeks since a deadly war with Hamas militants in Gaza. There are pending evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers. And there's an ultranationalist Israeli march, twice postponed, scheduled to approach those same neighborhoods on Tuesday.

(CROSSTALK)

LONSDORF: Yesterday evening, a far-right Israeli lawmaker and supporters assembled outside the Muslim quarter of the old city, waving an Israeli flag and supporting the planned march. Crowds of Palestinians protested.

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LONSDORF: A few Palestinians threw plastic water bottles. Israeli police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.

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LONSDORF: The police dispersed the crowds by spraying foul-smelling liquid on them, as the call to prayer began.

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LONSDORF: At this point, the march planned for Tuesday could be the next flashpoint in Jerusalem. Whether it takes place or not would be one of the first decisions for the new government and Naftali Bennett if they prevail on Sunday.

Kat Lonsdorf, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF COOPER SAMS' "WHITE WAVES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.