Ma'aleh Adumim teeters between Netanyahu and Lieberman

Even as she searched the bottom of her purse for change to pay for coffee at Aroma, Tuesday's elections were on the mind of Ma'aleh Adumim resident Hagit Hilo. When her friend passed by, she yelled out to him, as she held the shekels in her hand. "Don't tell me you are voting for Israel Beiteinu!" For Hilo, the choice was obvious - it is Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu all the way. "He is sexy, powerful, smart, and he has what to offer," she said. "He has done a lot for the economy... even in the United States they love him." Last week's polls showed that, nationwide, Netanyahu held only a narrow lead over Kadima party head Tzipi Livni. But here in the mall in the West Bank's second-largest city, Ma'aleh Adumim, located just outside of Jerusalem, the battle is between Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu party head Avigdor Lieberman. Outside the mall, posters for Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni were plastered above the sidewalk, but inside it was difficult to find someone who planned to vote for her, even though her party received almost as many votes in Ma'aleh Adumim as Israel Beiteinu in the 2006 election. In that contest, Netanyahu was the clear top vote getter in Ma'aleh Adumim. This time around, a number of Likud voters told The Jerusalem Post they planned to switch their vote. "Only [Lieberman] can stand up to the Arabs," said city councilman Lior Kallami, who is among the heads of Lieberman's campaign in Ma'aleh Adumim. Last time he voted for Likud because it was weak and needed him, Kalimai said as he puffed on a cigarette. This time around the party is strong enough that he is free to give his vote to an alternative right-wing candidate such as Lieberman. In the previous election, the pensioners party surprised everyone by capturing seven mandates. "The surprise of this election is Lieberman, period," Kalimai said. Three years ago, Galit Oren said, she did not vote. But now, as she sat in the mall and fed ice cream to her two small children, she felt that in the aftermath of the fighting in Gaza it was important to empower a strong leader like Lieberman. "He will do more to protect the Jews in Israel against the Arabs," she said. Unlike many other politicians, he is not afraid to take a principled stand, she said. Sarah Amsalem said she still had not decided exactly, "but it is more than likely to be Lieberman. He is strong and very clear about what he wants. Bibi could be a good leader, but he could go either way, right or left. Lieberman is straight about his views and will stick to them." As she stood behind the counter at a shoe store, 18-year-old Michal Cohen said she was excited about the opportunity to vote for the first time. Initially she had considered voting for Israel Beiteinu, but has switched to Likud because she believes that Netanyahu will both support settlements in the West Bank, and maintain good relations with the international community. "If we vote for Lieberman, the international community will crucify us," Cohen said. Netanyahu would be more accepted, she said. Cohen did not fear that Netanyahu would follow the path of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who had reneged on his campaign promises to preserve the settlements in Gaza. Sima Golosofsky and her daughter Chana Veinerman said they had started out this election campaign by favoring Likud, but after the party forced Moshe Feiglin into a low spot on its Knesset list, they decided to support the National Union instead. Even though Golosofsky, like Lieberman, is originally from the former Soviet Union, she said she feared that in the end both Lieberman and Netanyahu would divide Jerusalem. Only the National Union, the two women said, would take a strong stand on retaining control of the West Bank. One couple from Jerusalem, who sat on a side table in the food court and did not want to be named, said they were still deciding between Labor and Kadima. Strong Labor supporters, they said, they are thinking of strategy. They said they wanted to vote for Labor party leader Ehud Barak but would throw their vote to Livni if they felt that she needed it to beat Netanyahu. "It will be a last-minute decision," said the woman.