Israel's leading prime ministerial candidate Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to stop rocket fire from Gaza as top candidates battled it out for a record number of undecided voters ahead of the general election in two days' time.
Opinion polls tip Netanyahu, the leader of the of right-wing Likud party, to be Israel's next prime minister, which is seen as likely to hold back the peace process in the Middle East.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to get the most seats of any party, between 25 and 27 according to opinion polls, reflecting a rightward shift in a society exhausted by years of violence and limping peace talks.
"Israelis are sick of the peace process, of experiments," said Ze'ev Khanin, a political analyst at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
"They want their leaders to stop rocking the boat, they want that everything returns to how it was in the early 90s... before (current president Shimon Peres) and (ex-Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin began these experiments."
Although a record 20 percent of undecided voters have infused the ballot with a tinge of suspense, the vast majority of polls say the right will come back strongly in Israel's 18th parliamentary elections.
The poll's biggest spoiler is expected to be Avigdor Lieberman, a Soviet immigrant whose regular harangues against Arab Israelis have swelled support for his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party so much that it is tipped to become Knesset's third-largest, nudging out the center-left Labour.
"Leiberman is considered a strong man and the young generation is looking for a strong man," said Minah Tsemach, of the Dahaf Polling Institute.
The 50-year-old immigrant from then Soviet Moldova has built his reputation on vitriolic diatribes against Israeli Arabs that have provoked charges of racism and fascism, and made "No Citizenship Without Loyalty" a main campaign theme of the poll.
His number two said on Sunday that the party would join "a national government that will reject the roadmap as well as all negotiations on a withdrawal from the Golan Heights."
Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the centrist Kadima party that has headed the government for the last three years, distanced herself from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and reports of understandings he had reached with Palestinians during a year of revived peace talks.
Israeli media quoted Olmert as telling the new U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell during his maiden trip to the region in January that he had agreed, among other things, to remove 60,000 settlers from the occupied West Bank and give Palestinians sovereignty over some sections of Jerusalem.
"Each prime minister chooses his way, what he had chosen is not mine. I am not associated with this proposition," Livni told army radio, also distancing herself from indirect talks with Syria via Turkey.
Friction with Obama’s vision
But the 59-year-old Bibi, as Netanyahu is known in Israel, is thought to have the best chance of forming a ruling coalition in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.
The return of the media-savvy Netanyahu will end his three years in the political wilderness and mark 10 years since he last occupied the prime minister's chair.
But the negative effects of his comeback on the peace process are likely to be felt in the region and in the White House.
Netanyahu, a former finance minister, has said he would continue negotiating with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but with a focus on improving the West Bank's economy and security rather than any territorial handovers or solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees.
This unwillingness to handover occupied territories runs against U.S. President Barack Obama’s vision of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.
In another potential worry for Washington, Netanyahu has pledged to get tough on arch-foe Iran's nuclear plans. Obama champions engagement in the Middle East over confrontation
To minimize friction with main ally Washington, Netanyahu will likely first try to form a broad coalition with either Labour or Kadima, analysts say.
"He's not going to build a pure right-wing coalition, he'll try to build a broad one," said Shmuel Sandler, an analyst with Bar Ilan University. "He will try to build a more centrist government."
"There will be no revolution," said Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo accords that Netanyahu has proudly said he had stopped during his first premiership.
"The last thing he needs now is to marry Lieberman, he would like to present a face of a moderate, pragmatic leader. He doesn't need this right now," said Beilin, considered Israel's veteran dove.
Observers do not discount him making concessions again if Obama's administration applies enough pressure. "One should not think that if Netanyahu is prime minister the peace process will be shelved," said Beilin. "If the Americans are led by Obama, there is a chance for peace."
The election is taking place some three weeks after the end of Operation Cast Lead, Israel's deadliest offensive on Gaza that killed more than 1,300 people, destroyed large swathes of the territory and sparked widespread protests across the globe.