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Ms. Yachimovich and others on the left appear to have concluded that under these circumstances, the prime minister is more vulnerable on social issues.

In particular, she is trying to tap the frustrations caused by the fact that while the country’s per capita income is on par with Western Europe’s, many people feel impoverished.

The reasons for that include high inequality, a soaring cost of living and high taxes caused by extraordinary expenses, including security needs and benefits enjoyed by privileged sectors such as the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox population whose sectarian parties support Mr. Netanyahu.

Mass social protests erupted last summer against Israel’s high cost of living and the erosion of social-welfare safeguards.

Ms. Yachimovich, who has spent seven years in politics focusing on social and economic affairs, capitalized on the discontent to win the party primary and improve its fortunes somewhat in the polls.

The list of candidates for parliament that she helped engineer is dominated by veterans and newcomers known more for their devotion to social causes than to peace activism.

The trend was accelerated when Yair Lapid, a popular TV anchor and author, entered the political fray, establishing a new party that instantly became a factor in the polls.

While his past opinions on the Palestinian issue put him squarely in what is called the “center-left” bloc — that is, those who oppose Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud — Mr. Lapid also has sidestepped the issue in favor of championing the middle class and opposing the ultra-Orthodox.

Prodded on a Friday evening newscast to describe what his party stands for, Mr. Lapid didn’t once mention peace with the Palestinians or security issues.

“I want [to be] someone who represents the interests of the Israeli middle class, which works like a dog and can’t make ends meet,” he said on Channel 2 TV.

Enter Livni

Critics warn that Israel is playing with fire by ignoring an issue so central to its future.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat predicted disastrous consequences if Israelis didn’t give priority to resolving the conflict.

“Ignoring facts doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” Mr. Erekat said. “They ignore the fact that there’s been an abnormal occupation going on since 1967. That is surely political blindness that has always led to disasters.”

In the past, Palestinian frustration with impasses in peacemaking has boiled over into bloodshed, and violence has increased in recent weeks in the West Bank, while Israeli fears have risen over the possibility of a third Palestinian uprising.

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