Netanyahu Says Israelis Living Abroad Should Vote

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israelis living abroad should be eligible to vote in national elections.

Unlike the United States, which allows its citizens to cast their ballots from anywhere in the world, Israelis must be present in the country on the day of elections to vote.

Allowing citizens living outside the country to vote "will add to the connection with and strength of Israel," Netanyahu said at a Likud party faction meeting on Monday. "This is acceptable in many countries," he said.

A short time later, Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu party chairman Avigdor Lieberman called a meeting of his faction, where he spoke to reporters about the bill.

"There are many things in our coalition agreement that we intend to fulfill," Lieberman said. "The law that will enable Israelis overseas to vote will come up in April," he said.

Yisrael Beiteinu has prepared a bill that would allow citizens who hold "a valid Israeli passport for 10 years" to vote.

"In the age of globalization, when many citizens live abroad because of their business affairs, they should be allowed to participate in elections through the Israeli missions abroad, as is customary in most democracies in the world," Yisrael Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Alex Miller wrote in support of the pending legislation.

Opposition leader and Kadima party chairwoman Tzipi Livni called the concept "immoral" and said it "would not be an expression of democracy."

Kadima submitted a no-confidence motion against the government over the bill.

"The privilege of determining the fate of Israel must be in the hands of those living in Israel who are willing to pay the price of their decisions in elections, for better or for worse," Livni said.

"I believe we must encourage Israelis to return to Israel, but the right to determine what will happen in the state needs to be reserved only for those who chose to base their future here," she said. An estimated 750,000 Israelis live abroad.

Kadima, created by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a centrist party, has been steadily losing popularity.

Recent polls show that Israelis are pleased with the present coalition. If elections were held today, Likud would increase its mandates from 27 to as many as 35 seats, while Kadima would drop from 28 to 23 mandates.

Results showed that Netanyahu's popularity dropped slightly since the last poll three months ago, which some analysts attributed to the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), meant to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Over the past several months, Kadima has been dealing with dissent within its own ranks. MK Shaul Mofaz, who lost the chairmanship to Livni by less than 1 percent last fall, called to move up the party's primaries. Livni refused saying the move was only meant to unseat her.

"Livni is afraid," Mofaz said late last month. "There is nothing more democratic than primaries. She prefers to divide and destroy Kadima instead of democratically and properly confronting [the issues]," he said.

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Ha'aretz contributed to this report.

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