Netanyahu Tries to Fend Off Right-Wing Challenge

The Israeli prime minister responds to the defection of conservative voters to the right.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with the chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, January 20, 2012
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with the chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, January 20, 2012 (DoD/D. Myles Cullen)

Benjamin Netanyahu is fending off a right-wing challenge ahead of Israel’s parliamentary election later this month, urging conservative voters to stick with his Likud party and not defect to the far right.

In a number of local radio interviews, the Israeli leader maintained that the only way for the right to remain in power “is to vote for me.”

Any other vote, by those who want me as prime minister and don’t vote for me, increases the chance that the left will return to govern and lead the country instead of us.

Right-wing dissatisfaction

There is little doubt Netanyahu’s Likud, merged with former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, will win a plurality of the seats in the next Knesset.

But the more right-wing Jewish Home party, led by former businessman and settler leader Naftali Bennett, is rising in the polls.

Right-wing dissatisfaction stems from Netanyahu’s support for a truce with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Jewish Home is also a more outspoken in defending Jewish settlement construction in territory that is claimed by the Palestinians.

A role for Labor?

Bennett’s surge raises the possibility of a right-wing coalition with Labor instead of the tiny nationalist and Orthodox parties on which Netanyahu has relied so far.

Even if Jewish Home is more conservative then Likud, it has disliked governing with its smaller cousins on the right.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich has more or less ruled out joining a coalition led by the right, but she will probably be unable to form a left-wing government instead.

The other parties

The liberal Kadima is on the brink of elimination.

Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s new centrist party has won support but not enough to challenge Netanyahu.

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