Israel PM eyes right wing votes

2012-12-20 22:02
Benjamin Netanyahu. (Picture: AP)

Benjamin Netanyahu. (Picture: AP)

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Jerusalem - Israel's rush to push ahead new settler homes may have sparked global anger, but for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it is a way to counter the rising power of the hard right ahead of a January vote, commentators say.

With less than five weeks left of campaigning until the 22 January general election, Netanyahu's government has this week pushed ahead with plans to build nearly 5 700 new settlement homes, most of them in annexed east Jerusalem.

World condemnation has poured in with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warning Israel was on a "dangerous path" and Washington denouncing the planned construction as a "pattern of provocative action”.

And the EU on Thursday slammed Israel's "unprecedented expansion of settlements around Jerusalem," describing it as "extremely troubling”.

But in Israel, commentators were unanimous that the proposals were Netanyahu's way of winning rightwing support in the face of the rising popularity of Jewish Home, a hard-line national religious party led by his former office chief, Naftali Bennett.

"The torrent of construction plans... is not just a punitive step against the Palestinian Authority for its application to the UN," Maariv newspaper said earlier this week.

"Senior Likud sources admit these construction plans have a direct relationship to the current election campaign."

New homes

Israel began approving new settler homes en masse on 30 November  as a punitive step the day after the UN General Assembly voted to recognise Palestine as a non-member state in the face of strong US and Israeli opposition.

"This is our campaign. Until now, it has worked excellently," a Likud source told Maariv.

Although Netanyahu's rightwing nationalist Likud Beitenu list, grouping his party with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu, is in pole position to form the next coalition government, recent polls show growing support for Jewish Home under its new leader.

"The campaign of construction permits in Jerusalem, which has been conducted in the past two weeks from the Prime Minister's office, is an election campaign to all intents and purposes, which is intended to take over the agenda and stop the spill-over of seats to Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett," wrote Maariv commentator Mazal Mualem.

"This is a simple campaign, and for the time being a successful one," she wrote, noting that it was unclear how many of the plans would ultimately be implemented.

Poll

According to a poll on 18 December by Channel 2 television, Jewish Home could win enough votes to become the third largest party in parliament with 12 seats after Likud Beitenu's 35 and Labour's 19.

"It is mainly Jewish Home that is becoming stronger," said Mina Tzemah, who conducted the poll. "Bennett is taking [seats] away from the Likud."

Within the settler lobby, some expressed scepticism the plans would ever get off the drawing table, accusing "Bibi" Netanyahu of bluffing.

"Every time they want to manufacture a headline they say that construction has been approved," activist Yonatan Yosef was quoted as saying by the Yediot Aharonot daily.

"Bibi's just looking for headlines. He's scamming everyone. He doesn't really want to build for Jews. He only wants to appear rightwing," he said.

Winning votes

Aryeh King, a powerful property dealer at the forefront of building settler homes in the heart of Arab neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, said Netanyahu was trying to win back votes after being "defeated" by Gaza's Hamas rulers during an eight-day confrontation last month.

"Netanyahu is trying to win votes from the right after he disappointed everyone when Hamas defeated him in Operation Pillar of Defence, so he's trying to win votes over Jerusalem," Yediot quoted him as saying.

Jewish Home's Bennett said the problem lay in Israel's acceptance of a two-state solution to end the conflict with the Palestinians.

"Israel's problem isn't construction, but the talk about the construction," Maariv quoted him as saying.

"On the one hand, the government voices its support for a Palestinian state and on the other, punishes the world and the Palestinians when they turn to the UN to receive state status."

The solution, he said, was "to withdraw our consent for a Palestinian state that everyone already realises isn't going to be established."

Read more on:    benjamin netanyahu  |  ban ki-moon  |  israel
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