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Israel is a different place from the outside looking in

Imagine a Middle East where Naftali Bennett was Israel's Prime Minister. Former settler leader and IT entrepreneur turned politician, his agenda is a lethal cocktail of pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian statehood rhetoric. Openly contesting a Palestinian state, if voted in, he has plans to swallow up much of what's left of the West Bank.

"There is not going to be a Palestinian state within the tiny land of Israel", said the leader of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party to the Guardian in a recent interview. "It's just not going to happen. A Palestinian state would be a disaster for the next 200 years."

Climbing in the polls, Jewish Home is predicted to win between 16 and 18 of the 120 seats in the Knesset parliament, knocking down Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Beitnu coalition from a predicted 45 seats to 32. Also on Bennett's agenda is annexation of area C, which comprises 60% of the West Bank. "If we hand over [the West Bank] to the Arabs, life here will be miserable and in constant conflict for the next 200 years," said Bennett.

And, "what we are facing is a determined Muslim entity that wants to destroy Israel."

Then imagine if Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister again. Bibi's campaign trail has taken him on a tour of the settlements; speaking at Ariel, a settlement in the occupied West Bank whose college was recently awarded university status, he warned of the dangers of Iran and their nuclear weapons.  "The danger to the world is not from the university in Ariel or Israeli construction in the neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. The danger comes from Iran, which is building nuclear weapons", he clarified.

Though his campaign strategist, US Republican advisor Arthur Finkelstein, has reprimanded Bibi for sniping at Bennett, the two candidates have much in common. Both campaigns seem to be based on who can create the most urgent 'security problem' facing Israel, and who can present themselves as the best person resolve it.

The biggest existential threat comes from the Palestinians of course, a myth that in the government's eyes justified Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012. But in Netanyahu's case Iran is also a significant risk; the rogue state is at the final stage of building a nuclear bomb, as demonstrated by the bomb chart he produced at the UN General Assembly in September.

Then there's illegal migrants from Africa who must be kept out by a wall where Israel meets Egypt. The latest development is a 43-mile fence along the border with the occupied Golan Heights to keep out wayward, Syrian, Islamist militants who may attack with chemical weapons at any point.

Israel increasingly resembles a gated community – scared of what they perceive the outside world to be, magnifying reality beyond their walls – though the image is becoming less of a metaphor and more of a physical reality. Both politicians are pushing for Israeli lives to become defined by protecting themselves, an exhausting prospect and a dangerous bubble. And what do they think of the international community's increasing antipathy? They just don't understand.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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