Israelis go to the polls today in an election widely expected to return Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister for a third term – an historic achievement in the turbulent world of Israeli politics. A hardliner who has not hidden his backing for settlement building on occupied land — despite issuing qualified support for a Palestinian state in 2009 — Mr Netanyahu has successfully portrayed himself as a strong leader who can protect Israelis in a tough neighbourhood in the face of widespread international criticism.
That the already hawkish Mr Netanyahu was outflanked on the right by a charismatic new candidate, Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, has become the main theme of the election campaign. Mr Bennett makes no bones of his opposition to a two state solution with the Palestinians, and advocates the annexation of at least part of the occupied West Bank. His success in the campaign is part of a sharp shift to the right in Israeli politics.
In the FT:
- Naftali Bennett burst onto the political scene when he was elected leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party in November and he is emblematic of Israel’s rightward shift. He and his party campaigned hard in working class areas, underlining their support for Eretz Yisrael (Greater Israel, including occupied Palestinian land). His rise alarmed liberals and pushed Mr Netanyahu to the right on the campaign trail.
- If returned to office as expected, Mr Netanyahu may enter a second decade as prime minister, but his legacy could dissipate if he fails to address the Palestinian issue. Gideon Rachman argues that continuing to play lip service to the peace process without actually making peace is an unsustainable policy that may be “tactically astute” – but offers no strategic vision.