|An Israeli boy passes by a Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu campaign poster depicting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Jan. 18, 2013. Netanyahu's Likud party, which has decided to present a joint-list of candidates with the Yisrael Beiteinu party for the Jan. 22 elections, is expected to become the largest party in the next Knesset (parliament). (Xinhua/Muammar Awad)
by Dave Bender
JERUSALEM, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- As the final days tick off before the elections of the Knesset (parliament) and government, many Israeli settlers in the West Bank are drifting rightward but still uncertain of who can best represent their interests.
Their sentiments tally with recent surveys suggesting that between 14 to 18 percent of the country's 5.6 million eligible voters are still undecided over whom they want to see in the 120- member unicameral legislature after the Jan. 22 elections.
Once bastions of strong support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist Likud coalition, many among the more than 350,000 residents of settlements in the West Bank, are mulling parties further to the right, while a few may even cast a protest vote for centrist-left Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party or harder-left Meretz.
They are disgruntled over what they perceive as Netanyahu's vacillating in the face of fierce international pressure to constrain or totally halt settlement construction.
Surveys in recent days say Naftali Bennet's far-right Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party is succeeding in siphoning off votes from Likud, and may be the third largest party in the upcoming legislature, after Labor.
Newspaper and television polls have shown that Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu joint list would gain between 32 to 37 seats, and Labor would settle in with 15 to 17 seats.
Bennet's Bayit Yehudi would come in with an estimated 14 or 15 seats. The Channel Ten poll indicates that if the Likud-Beitenu vote has weakened as it projects, then the extreme right-wing Strong Israel and Tzipi Livni's centrist Hatnuah (Movement) party could both profit.
In total, the rightist and religious blocs are likely to win 64 seats, according to one poll, while the centrist and left-wing factions are predicted to get 56 seats.
In Efrat, a settlement south of Jerusalem, one self-declared " wavering Likudnik" said he was "in a bind" after 12 years of voting for Netanyahu's ruling party.
"Up to now I have never hesitated to vote for Likud," said Barry Lynn. "However, I can't decide on voting for Likud -- Our Home, and I don't see any alternatives."
Another settler of Efrat, Ben Waxman, said that "For the first time in my life I am considering voting for Labor or Meretz," in what he termed "a protest vote against the crazy people in the Likud."
However, Waxman said that Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz "did a very good job managing the economy, something not to be sneezed at..."
At the nearby Alon Shevut settlement, Izzy Broker said he planned on "voting for Bayit Yehudi because they seem to share most of the beliefs I have." In addition, he added "I do not trust Bibi (Netanyahu's nickname) and feel he needs to have Bayit Yehudi in his government to keep him on the 'right' path."
Meanwhile, in the settlement of Har Homa, which lies just beyond the cease-fire lines, veteran American immigrant Arnie Draiman told Xinhua that he was swinging "between Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi."
Draiman said that "I am most comfortable with a center-right party -- but that doesn't exist..."
While viewing Bennet as "honest, trustworthy, smart, and says what he means," Draiman noted that "Lapid's party has some good candidates and his platform speaks to me."
Draiman, echoing many uncertain Israelis, however, concluded that "I might not decide until I pick up the piece of paper and put it into the envelope."