Israel Far Right Rise Poses Test for Netanyahu

Naftali Bennett Surges as Center-Left Mulls Coalition

Surge in Polls: Far right leader Naftali Bennett is surging in Israeli opinion polls, presenting a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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Surge in Polls: Far right leader Naftali Bennett is surging in Israeli opinion polls, presenting a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By Reuters

Published January 06, 2013.
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On Saturday, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, said she and leaders of the centrist Yesh Atid and left-leaning Labour parties would “discuss the creation of a ‘united front’ to work together to replace Netanyahu”.

Opinion polls suggest the three parties could collectively win about 37 parliamentary seats - two more than the number projected for Likud-Yisrael Beitenu - and potentially be tasked by Israeli President Shimon Peres with forming a government.

But disagreements over the terms for any centre-left partnership could make it elusive.

SECURITY CHALLENGES

Surveys still show Netanyahu - portraying himself as an experienced leader able to meet security challenges ranging from Iran’s nuclear programme to rockets controlled by Islamist militants on Israel’s borders - likely to win the support of enough right-wing parties to ensure he remains in power.

But his appearances on the morning drive-time programmes on Israel Radio and Army Radio were a telling departure for the prime minister, who rarely gives interviews to the local media.

He went on the air after an Israel radio poll on Thursday showed Bennett’s party taking up to 18 of parliament’s 120 seats, a gain of five, compared with 35 for Likud-Beitenu.

Netanyahu has also been stung by a renewed attack by Yuval Diskin, former head of Israel’s internal security service, who said in an interview published in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Friday that the prime minister was wavering and weak.

Last year, Diskin, who retired as Shin Bet chief in 2011, warned that Netanyahu sought a “messianic” war with Iran.

Asked about Diskin’s allegations, Netanyahu said in the Israel Radio interview: “They say I am on a messianic mission. Let me tell you something - I am on a mission. It is not messianic. It is clear-eyed.”

Top-level Israeli discussions about Iran, which Israel believes is striving to develop nuclear weapons in secret, “are the most responsible, serious and comprehensive” in the Jewish state’s history, Netanyahu said.

“Preventing a nuclear Iran is my central goal in the next term,” said Netanyahu. He has set out a mid-2013 “red line” for Tehran’s uranium enrichment, signalling a postponement to any Israeli military action.

Iran, Israel’s arch-adversary in the Middle East, says it is enriching uranium for peaceful energy purposes only.

Alluding to Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, Netanyahu said he needed “a big party” behind him in order to continue “to withstand tough international pressure and direct wisely the matters vital to Israel’s security”.


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