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Israel's Election Pyromania

Israeli Politicians Ignite Election Campaign With Inflammatory Statements

IsraCast Assessment: Politicians In & Out Of Government Are Harming Israel's National Interests By Making Rash Statements Aimed At Attracting Voters

The Knesset

 Are Israeli politicians from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on down now shooting from the hip in trying to attract voters in the January 22nd election? It appears so. Just listen to the rash of reckless rhetoric that is now being bandied about by some party leaders. Naftali Bennet, who heads the ultra Right-wing 'Jewish Home' party, has set fire to the campaign by stating "If I were an IDF soldier and was ordered to evacuate a Jewish settler from his home, I would first ask permission to be recused and if not, I would rather be sent to the military brig!" Analyst David Essing updates the election campaign that was kicked off by the ruling Likud-Beiteinu party this week.

 Who is the dark horse of the current election campaign? Without a doubt it is newcomer Naftali Bennet, leader of the 'Jewish Home' party, who demands unlmited Jewish settlement in Judea & Samaria (West Bank) and opposes the establishement of Palestine on the West Bank. Bennet, a former senior aide to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has been upstaging his old boss by taking a harder line on the Palestinian issue. According to the polls this strategy is paying off - Bennet's party has been gaining at the Likud's expense. The figures give Benet's party 11 Knesset seats while Likud-Beitenu has slipped to thirty-five. Moreover, Netanyahu may have approved the announcements about 6,000 new housing units in Judea & Samaria in order to forestall more Right-wingers opting for Bennet.

Bennet's blunder...

Naftali Bennett

But Naftali Bennet, who has been riding a Right-wing wave of popularity, may now have gone too far. Bennet, who resigned as a Netanyahu aide reportedly due to differences with Sara Netanyahu, resembles a younger Bibi in several ways. Both are highly articulate, very telegenic and served in the IDF's vaunted Sayeret Matkal special forces unit. Bennet is dead set against evacuating Jewish settlers from their homes and when asked by a TV interviewer what Israeli soldiers should do if ordered to do so he replied: "I would first request to abstain from carrying out this order, if refused I would rather be sent to the military brig than move Jews out of their homes!" The Likud has pounced on his pronouncement. If Bennet thought such a statement would resonate well with Right-wing voters the Likud viewed it differently. In fact, it is a no-no in Israel. Netanyahu blasted Bennet: "Israel survival depends on the Israel Defense Forces and it is unconscionable that a party leader would ever suggest soldiers disobey orders!" And would the PM accept him as a future partner in his coalition government? Netanyahu retorted: "Absolutely not!" As for his election campaign, Netanyahu said that Iran's Ahmadinejad would be watching the outcome of the ballot on January 22 and it was vital that Israel elect a strong PM... in other words Netanyahu.

Realizing his gaffe, Bennet has issued a correction - he was expressing 'his personal feeling' about the issue and in no way was he inciting soldiers to disobey orders. Obviously this edification does not hold much water, if any at all. The result is that by voicing his settler convictions in such a manner, Bennet has tarnished his image, just how much remains to be seen. By the way the new darling of the Far Right, who made a killing in the high-tech market, is a millionaire who lives with his family in the affluent town of Ranaana, adjacent to Tel Aviv.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

But if Netanyahu has been trying to block Bennet's ascendancy on the Right by announcing plans to build more housing units on the West Bank, he also is guilty of sacrificing the national interest in order to win the election. Granted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flagrantly violated the Oslo Agreement with Israel by launching a diplomatic war in the U.N. General Assembly that recently recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state. The Oslo process clearly stipulated a bilateral peace process that ruled out any such one sided moves. According to Netanyahu Israel was obligated to teach the Palestinians they could not get away with a fast one. However even if Israel is in the right, has it been wise to arouse the ire of the whole planet by trumpeting announcements on West Bank settlements?

Tzipi castigates Bibi...

 Tzipi Livni of the Centrist 'Movement' left no doubt whatever - she's railed at Bibi, for harming Israel's national interest, its security and even its legitimate claim to Jerusalem. And to boot, Netanyahu has isolated Israel in the international community. Livni will seek a mandate from voters to renew the negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas which she conducted during the former Olmert government. At week's end, the polls show Netanyahu could form a cabinet with the Right wing bloc comprising Likud-Beiteinu, Bennet and the two ultra-orthodox parties for a sixty-five seat majority in the 120 member Knesset. Although Livni has not upset her election apple-cart her party may be stuck on ten seats.

Shelly running a far second...

On the Left, Shelly Yachimovich is taking some hits for her crash program to revamp Israel's economy. It targets the lack of equality that has enabled the 'rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer'. However most independent economists have rediculed her revolutionary approach as being totally out of touch with reality - it would drive out foreign and domestic investment and wind up making everyone poorer. There are no signs yet that Yachimovich will attract significant low income voters who have traditionally voted Likud. In promoting this strategy, she has taken a soft line on settlements saying Israel should keep funding their development as long as their is no peace deal with the Palestinians. This does not go down well with some Left-wingers and to date there are no indications that Labor is gaining on Likud.

David Essing

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