Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

Hawkish sentiment on Gaza grows in Israel

Posted by claudiacampli su 26 gennaio, 2009


Monday, January 26, 2009

JERUSALEM: With two weeks to go before Israeli elections, the politicians who seem to have benefited most from the nation’s military offensive against Hamas in Gaza are those who were not involved in planning or carrying out the war.

That is not because Israelis have regrets or have become faint-hearted about the casualties and destruction in Gaza. To the contrary, there appears to have been a shift further to the right, reflecting a feeling among many voters that an even tougher approach may now be required.

Recent polls indicate that the rightist Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu has retained and even increased its lead. The other party that appears to have gained the most ground is the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu of Avigdor Lieberman.

A hawkish legislator and former minister, Lieberman pulled his party out of the governing coalition a year ago, when Israel began negotiations over Palestinian statehood with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, which is viewed as more moderate and pragmatic than Hamas.

President Barack Obama said on his second day in office that his administration would “actively and aggressively seek” an Israeli-Palestinian peace. George Mitchell, the administration’s special envoy and a seasoned negotiator, is expected in the region as soon as Wednesday. In Israel, though, the popular discourse is less about peace than realpolitik and security in the run-up to the elections Feb. 10.

“The mood in the country” fits Netanyahu’s line, said Asher Arian of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent research institute in Jerusalem.

The Likud leader is presenting himself first as a champion of security, and then as a good steward of the economy. Netanyahu also talks of advancing practical arrangements with the Palestinians and says that if elected he will try to form as broad a governing coalition as possible, partly to allay international fears that he would form a far-right government.

The three-week war against Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, won broader public support here than almost any other Israeli military campaign.

Yet two of its main protagonists are lagging behind Netanyahu in the polls. Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the centrist Kadima Party, which won the last elections in 2006, remains in second. But the gap between her and Netanyahu has grown slightly.

Ehud Barak, the defense minister and Labor party chief, has long been unpopular. While the Gaza campaign gave him a slight boost, he is still trailing badly.

Under the electoral system, the leader of the party that wins the most votes gets the chance to cobble together a governing coalition and become prime minister. Israelis say they generally prefer Barak as minister of defense.

Netanyahu was the front-runner even before the Gaza offensive, which Israel says was chiefly aimed at stopping Palestinian militants from launching rockets against Israeli cities in the south.

Since the war, Lieberman’s star has begun to rise. His party currently holds 11 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. Four opinion polls in the last week have given Yisrael Beitenu 16 seats, edging ahead of the center-left Labor Party in three of the polls and tying with it in the fourth.

“Yisrael Beitenu continues to establish itself as the third-largest party in Israel,” the party’s Hebrew Web site proclaimed Monday.

Lieberman, who immigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1978 at the age of 20, lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Popular with the country’s so-called Russian vote, he is vocal about the threat from Iran and advocates swapping areas of Israel that are heavily populated by Arab citizens of the state for parts of the West Bank that are populated by Israeli Jews.

During the recent Gaza campaign, Yisrael Beitenu and another right-wing party attempted to have the two Israeli Arab parties disqualified from the forthcoming elections, accusing them of supporting terrorism and not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

Tapping into the nationalist fervor whipped up by the war, the motion to bar the Arab parties gained overwhelming support in the Parliament’s Central Elections Committee, but was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Some of the rising popularity of Netanyahu and Lieberman may be due to the frustration among at least part of the Israeli public that the war in Gaza did not go far enough.

Although the government was clear in setting limited goals for the campaign, said Yehuda Ben Meir, a public opinion expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, part of the public seemed to have “its own expectations” like, for example, the collapse of Hamas.

Livni is campaigning on a platform of continuing negotiations with the Palestinians for a two-state solution and argues that any Israeli government that fails to do so will quickly find itself in conflict with the new administration in the United States.

But Livni came out of the war seeming “a bit wishy-washy,” said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Though she took a hard line on Hamas, Livni did not gain much credit for the nation’s display of military might. In Washington to sign the Memorandum of Understanding on preventing weapon smuggling into Gaza, she was absent when Israel declared a cease-fire.

Most here believe that Olmert is not going out of his way to root for his successor in Kadima, still smarting over the fact that Livni, along with Barak, had pressed for him to resign over corruption allegations.

In a final twist, the police on Sunday detained seven associates of Lieberman for questioning, including his daughter, who has since been released to house arrest, as part of a longstanding investigation into the politician’s finances. The police suspect Lieberman of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. But many commentators here say that in the case of Lieberman, a perennial suspect, the police attentions will only help.

“Just look at the Russian-language Internet sites,” wrote Lily Galili in Haaretz newspaper on Monday, “where Lieberman has once again become the persecuted Russian immigrant, the representative of all such immigrants ever victimized by the police.”



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