Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection challenged by rival candidate and allied opposition


When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to call early elections, it was with the conviction that it would strengthen his majority in government and that such result would mean the beginning of a new term where he could do and undo at will. But, two weeks before the elections, the absolute reign of King Bibi is not so clear.

Ironically, his biggest threat now comes not from the left or the center parties as it traditionally happens in Israel. It is coming from the newborn extreme right, led by Naftali Bennett whose party’s numbers have gone through the roof.

A recent survey of Israeli radio ascribed to the Jewish Home, Bennett’s party, 18 seats out of a total of 120 of the Knesset. The same poll gave 35 spots to the electoral alliance led by Netanyahu’s Likud.

The Bennett phenomenon is however disturbing to Netanyahu for several reasons. Firstly, because his alliance lost seven seats compared to the outgoing Parliament. The votes of Bennett, a banking software mogul who has spent seven years in politics, is supported by disenchanted voters from Netanyahu’s party.

The election to be held in two weeks will not be important just because of the number of votes each candidate will get, but also because the winning candidate will need to be strong enough to form a government.

No major party has been able to obtain an absolute majority in the history of Israel, so they’ve had to form broad coalitions and these elections will not be an exception. The good news for Netanyahu’s Likud is that the Jewish House are almost natural ideological allies. The bad news is that Bennett and the prime minister publicly profess enmity.

In this context, Netanyahu has turned his speech even more to the right, taking his discourse to the streets in search of votes. On Sunday he was seen at a nightclub in Tel Aviv, in jeans, in front of the DJ, aware that many of the new voters are young Jewish people with ages under 30.

In the large colony of Ariel Netanyahu told settlers that large global threats are Iran and Syrian chemical weapons, not settlements. Half a million Israelis live in settlements in the Palestinian territories, which are considered illegal by the international community. Despite the firm stance against the construction of more illegal settlements, the current Prime Minister has promised to build even more.

Bennett is the only candidate who opposes even lip service to the creation of a Palestinian state. He also defends the annexation of much of the West Bank and some autonomy or dependence of Jordan for the rest. “I am against a Palestinian state,” Bennett said Tuesday during a foreign policy debate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “If they have a state, the door will be opened to Palestinian refugees across the Arab world,” said Bennett.

His public speeches, which often ignore the Palestinian issue and focus on the socio-economic problems of the country, entice many Israelis who take for granted that there will be a peace agreement in the future and prefer to focus on domestic issues. A poll that the Times of Israel released Tuesday indicates that relations with the Palestinians is a priority for only 16% of the Israelis.

But regardless of their political proposals, which really appeals to voters is the figure and the personality of Bennett, who until recently was the director general of the umbrella organization of the settlers. “He served in the most prestigious combat unit of the army while being a software millionaire.

In the larger picture, it seems that the once almighty Labour movement will get almost the same number of seats as the far-right Jewish Home. The other center-left formations would be well below that figure, but could form a bloc to overshadow Netanyahu’s candidacy.

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