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Inside Story

Is Israel leaning further to the right?

We examine how domestic issues will work to set the tone for the new government after Tuesday's parliamentary election.
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2013 10:10

Israelis will be heading to the polls on Tuesday and there seems little doubt that Binyamin Netanyahu will be handed a third term as prime minister. But he is going to have to form a coalition to create a majority in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

Netanyahu's Likud party is running on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beiteinu party led by Avigdor Lieberman, the former Israeli foreign minister. They are expected to win between 32 and 35 seats, which means they will have to rely on other parties to secure the necessary 61 majority.

Campaign issues in this election are focusing on domestic concerns rather than foreign ones.

"The main challenge to Netanyahu in this election is not coming from the centre or the left, it's coming from the right .… [He] is worried not so much that he'll lose a majority in the Knesset but that he'll lose power within his own coalition to right-wing parties."

-Anshel Pfeffer, a political correspondent for the Haaretz

A recent newspaper poll showed nearly half of those surveyed put socio-economic issues as their chief concern. Iran's nuclear programme and peace with the Palestinians were way down on the list.

Netanyahu's relationship with Barack Obama, the US president, has also been variously described as dysfunctional and confrontational.

Obama has even been quoted as describing the Israeli prime minister as a political coward.

And there was the open microphone incident at the 2011 G20 summit which caught then French President Nicolas Sarkozy talking to Obama about Netanyahu, saying: "I cannot stand him. He's a liar", to which Obama responded: "You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day."

Netanyahu has clashed with the US over the urgency of military action against Iran. In September he said Tehran would be on the brink of a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

"If these are the facts, and they are, where should a red line be drawn? A red line should be drawn right here … before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb," he said.

Last Friday, Netanyahu appealed for settler votes by defending construction in the West Bank by saying: "The days when bulldozers uprooted Jews are behind us. We haven't uprooted settlements, we've expanded them. Nobody has any lessons to give me about love for the Land of Israel, commitment to Zionism and settlements."

"From the American point of view is that it doesn't really make any difference what the election outcome is, you have a strong relationship that's there and despite all of the rhetoric and everything else, the US and Israel will continue to be close allies, though there'll be differences in tone on key issues such as the Palestinians and Iran."

- Graeme Bannerman, a former Middle East analyst at the US State Department

Among the new political parties to emerge since Israel's last election is the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party.

Its leader, the technology millionaire Naftali Bennett, has had an upswing in the opinion polls. He has been sapping votes from the Likud/Beiteinu alliance.

Now his party looks set to take the third place, and play an important role in the new government. That would shift one of the most right-wing administrations in Israel's history even further to the right.

Bennett opposes any territorial compromise with the Palestinians and has demanded that Israel annexes 60 percent of the West Bank. That would effectively kill off any lingering possibility of a two-state solution.

The fact is that no party has ever won an outright majority in the history of Israeli elections.

Inside Story asks: So which parties will Netanyahu woo? And will the coalition be strong enough to form a stable government?

Joining the discussion with presenter Shiulie Ghosh are guests: Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli political correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper; Graeme Bannerman, a former Middle East analyst at the US State Department, and a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC; and Roee Ruttenberg, a journalist at 972mag.com, an Israeli current affairs online magazine.

"Bennett is simply more appealable to young Israelis … in terms of both their youth and their ambition at a time when many young people are struggling for jobs, a lot of people saw him appealing to their professional and national aspirations."

Roee Ruttenberg, a journalist at 972mag.com


Who is Binyamin Netanyahu likely to woo?

  • Centrist parties – The Movement party led by former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni; the Kadima party headed by former defence minister Shaul Mofaz, and Yesh Atid, a new party led by a former journalist
  • The ultra-orthodox Shas party – they joined Netanyahu in 2009
  • The new nationalist Jewish Home party – this has seen an upsurge in the past month
  • The Labor party – it is expected to win the second-highest number of votes but has said it will not join a Netanyahu-led government

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