With elections looming in Israel, Benyamin Netanyahu finds himself cornered to defend Likud and its objectives, after Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party emerged as a potential threat pulling right-wing voters away from the incumbent prime minister. Bennett, a millionaire and former chief of staff under Netanyahu’s government until 2008, appeals to the far-right electorate with his views that the State of Israel should encompass all of Palestinian land, including the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.
Bennet’s popularity with younger voters described as secular seems to indicate a reinvention of Jewish identity, considering that the Jewish Home’s extreme right-wing manifesto is designed to eliminate any notion of Palestinian nationhood, further entrenching the historical Zionist declaration denying the existence of the indigenous Palestinians.
In an attempt to consolidate his position, Netanyahu is appealing to the electorate to vote for Likud, stating that anyone casting a vote in favour of a new or smaller party would be responsible for ushering in a centre-left coalition. The scaremongering rhetoric comes after three centre-left parties: Labor, Hatnua and Yesh Atid considered forming a bloc which would hinder Netanyahu’s consolidation of power and dominance of leadership. Whilst the centre-left parties have a common aim – that of defeating Netanyahu, only Labour has ruled out forming a coalition with a Netanyahu led government.
Operation Pillar of Defence has also sparked various opinions about Netanyahu’s leadership and further vehemence ensued following Khaled Meshaal’s visit to Gaza. Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnua, viewed the ceasefire as a victory for Hamas. Bennett declared that his party had mounted opposition against the government’s decision to allow Meshaal into Gaza. “I don’t understand why we allowed him to enter Gaza and why, once he was there, we didn’t liquidate him, because he deserves to die.” Thus the end to the massacre of Palestinians was described as negotiating with Hamas, something which Netanyahu is now striving to refute.
Amongst Netanyahu’s electoral promises are the building of further settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as ‘preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power’. The expansion of settlements, highly viewed as a retaliation to the UN’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member state, may also define Netanyahu’s commitment to ‘protecting the State of Israel’, combined with other apartheid practices to the detriment of Palestinians and their land. Militarisation – both with regard to confrontation with Palestinians, as well as the obsession with Iran’s nuclear programme, plays upon Western fears over their interests in the Middle East. Indeed, the international community’s responsibility towards peace fluctuates according to political and economic necessities. Thus Netanyahu benefits from Western and internal political support by reinventing the Palestinian issue as an Israeli security problem and Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons as a threat to stability in the region.
The battle for right wing support has been intensified with the rivalry between Bennett and Netanyahu. Bennett’s ideology may lead to a redefining of the concept of secularism within Israel, as it adheres to a Zionist interpretation of history and identity. Netanyahu’s promises of ‘protecting the State of Israel’ are imbued with military and security references. Whether Jewish identity among voters has reinvented itself remains to be seen; a lot depends on how this struggle for Israel’s leadership unfolds.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.