Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

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

Netanyahu stokes fears to take poll lead

Posted by claudiacampli su 8 febbraio, 2009

Sunday Times

Israel’s right-wing hawk is striking a chord with election voters who mistrust peace with Palestinians

HIS silver hair blowing in a chill wind, Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing front-runner in Israel’s general election, was eager to reassure a crowd of Jewish settlers in the West Bank last Friday: victory this week for his Likud party would mean no Palestinian state on their land.

“The election on Tuesday will be about one issue – whether this place will remain in our hands or will be handed over to Hamas [the Islamic extremist group] and Iran,” he roared to adoring supporters in Beit Aryeh, a small settlement.

If Palestinian militants were in control, rockets would rain down on Israel’s international airport only 15 miles away, he warned.

Netanyahu, 59, has won his lead in the opinion polls by repeatedly articulating the anxieties of voters like the inhabitants of Beit Aryeh, whose settlement is built on land won by Israel in the 1967 war. It would therefore be returned to Palestinian rule under the peace agreement envisaged by the United States.

Despite the global financial crisis, Israel’s politicians have largely ignored the economy on the campaign trail. This election is about how to deal with the Palestinians.

Coming just six weeks after Israel’s invasion of Gaza to stop Hamas rocket attacks, it has seen the right making large gains as a result of Israeli fears of the Palestinian threat.

The latest poll in the Haaretz newspaper predicts that right-wing parties led by the hawkish Likud will win 66 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament, with 54 going to Kadima, the governing centrist party, and smaller parties on the left.

Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, 50, the foreign minister, is closing the gap with a predicted 25 seats to Likud’s 27, but commentators say the trend is clear. “A wind from the right is blowing through the country,” said Shlomo Yerushalmi, an analyst on Israeli television.

Netanyahu, who was prime minister from 1996 to 1999, was not spelling out the details of his plans publicly and refused Livni’s challenge to a debate. In briefings, however, the Likud leader – who grew up partly in America – has disclosed that he would spurn any US attempt to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We will not withdraw from one inch. Every inch we leave would go to Iran,” Netanyahu said, referring to the financial and military support that the Tehran regime gives Hamas. The Islamic extremist group controls Gaza and has a growing presence in the West Bank.

Under Netanyahu’s plan, Palestinians would not have a sovereign state but self-governing, non-contiguous “population centres”. He also proposes an “economic peace” that would improve living conditions for Palestinians in the hope that this would help moderate opinion to prevail.

Gideon Levy, a Haaretz columnist, expressed a common view when he called the plan “a mix of condescension and dehumanisation”, but it strikes a chord with those voters who distrust the idea of making peace in the face of a growing Palestinian radicalism.

A Likud government would annihilate Hamas, Netanyahu claimed, a goal seen as unrealistic even by the Israeli intelligence establishment.

Netanyahu’s election would be a setback for the administration of President Barack Obama, who vowed to push for Middle East peace “from day one” and appointed George Mitchell, the former Northern Ireland envoy, as his representative in the region.

The resurgence of the right is exemplified by the startling rise of Avigdor Lieberman, 50, the Russian-born leader of Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), once considered to be a fringe party.

The one-time Moldovan nightclub bouncer and former aide to Netanyahu rose to third place in the polls last week and is predicted to gain 18 seats, more than the Labour party.

Lieberman, who relishes his hardline reputation, has called for all Israeli Arab citizens to swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship. He also proposes to transfer many Arab Israelis to Palestinian rule by redrawing Israel’s borders.

“I think Lieberman will be the big kingmaker in this election,” said Michael Barak, an Israeli pollster.

In the complex world of Israeli politics, Lieberman’s surge has helped the centrist Livni by siphoning votes away from Netanyahu.

Their supporters could hardly be more different. While Netanyahu stood on that West Bank hill surrounded by dour men in suits, Livni held a rally at which she belted out, karaoke-style, Non, je ne regrette rien (No regrets), the signature tune of Edith Piaf, the French singer. The show starred Dana International, Israel’s trans-gender Eurovision winner.

Livni’s speech echoed the themes of Obama’s campaign in the United States.

“We are going to do it,” she told the ecstatic crowd of women in tight, low-slung jeans and men in T-shirts. “Don’t vote from fear or despair. The easiest thing to do is to paint the future as black.”

Livni, a lawyer and former agent for Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence agency, entered the Knesset only 10 years ago. As foreign minister she has led negotiations with the Palestinians for the past year, but she has also been short on details during her campaign, fearing that her backing for a separate Palestinian state would alienate many voters.

Whoever wins the popular vote on Tuesday will still have to form a coalition government. The smaller parties seem certain to hold the larger parties to ransom in pursuit of their special interests. Alliances in Israel can be bizarre and by Friday Livni was saying she would consider taking Lieberman into a coalition led by her.

Netanyahu’s dream coalition would include Labour, once Israel’s leading party but now in fourth place despite being led by Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier and the present defence minister.

All the pollsters were making cautionary noises last week, with up to a third of the 5.2m voters still undecided. Few people were prepared to predict which of the two starkly opposing options for bringing peace to Israel and its neighbours would win the day.

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