Netanyahu weakened as new stars emerge in Israeli politics

Jan 23, 2013

PM to continue for third term, but success of Lapid and Bennett shows Israelis want change

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BENJAMIN NETANYAHU is expected to form a new coalition and continue as Prime Minister of Israel for a third term after the country's general election yesterday, but his position has been greatly weakened after a collapse of support for his Likud party.

Although Likud-Beitenu remains the biggest group in the Knesset, it is projected to win only 31 out of 120 seats, down from 42 at the 2009 election.

Undoubtedly, the biggest winner of the night was former television presenter Yair Lapid, whose new centrist party, Yesh Atid, came from nowhere to finish second with 18 or 19 seats predicted.

Jewish Home, the right-wing party led by ex-commando Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's former chief of staff, failed to perform as well as some had predicted, but it still came fourth in polling and should pick up more than ten seats.

With his own party leeching support to both the left and right, Netanyahu now faces "a tough political challenge to put together a stable coalition," says The Guardian.

It does not look good for the veteran leader. "He emerges from these elections a rather diminished figure, whose wheeling and dealing skills may be sorely tested as he sets about building a new coalition," says the BBC.

Instead, the new star of Israeli politics is Lapid. The New York Times says he will now become the "the chief power broker in the formation of the next governing coalition".

The TV presenter, whose father was a Holocaust survivor who became justice minister and whose mother was a novelist, has "reinvented himself as one of the most powerful political leaders in the country, leveraging his celebrity and a populist message that resonated".

Lapid's success overshadowed that of Bennett, but according to The Times: "Netanyahu has haemorrhaged votes to Jewish Home, forcing him to lurch towards the far-right during a bruising campaign."

There is plenty of speculation as to why Likud's vote collapsed, the Times reports. Activists have pointed fingers at the Israel Beitenu party, Likud’s partners on the joint ticket, saying it was "a mistake" to merge with the party of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, caught in a corruption scandal.

The Jerusalem Post also put Likud's collapse down to the fact there were few other realistic candidates to lead a government, so Netanyahu had no-one to campaign against.

"Without a prime-ministerial candidate on the Center-Left considered serious competition, Netanyahu pretended at times to be running against [Israeli President Shimon] Peres, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Europe, US President Barack Obama, and finally that generic, hated foe, 'international pressure’.

"It is true that having a real, tangible adversary in an election can be helpful. Unfortunately for Netanyahu, he became his own worst enemy."

But the vote is a clear indication that the Israeli electorate want change, on a domestic front at least, argued the Post. "Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, political novices, are the country's poster boys for change – and they did astonishingly well. The old guard – Binyamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz – they all took it on the chin."

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Why cannot the wider Israeli populace understand that they are perpetuating this "intractable" problem in the Middle East by their siege mentality? - surely, it is not beyond the wit of man to see that by continuing with this illegal settlement program, in the face of unequivocal international (and UN) condemnation, Israel is storing up problems for itself and its international backers in the USA.

Britain is drawn into the slipstream of US foreign policy and is seen, rightly or wrongly, to be an unquestioning ally of the US and, by extension, to approve and abet the Israelis in their settlement expansion; by this means both the US and Britain are recruiting enemies in the Arab world quite unnecessarily.

This is not to say, of course, that without Israel's activities Britain and the US would have NO enemies in the Arab world, but we would have far fewer to deal with, and we would stand a much better chance of countering that threat, with our current meagre resources, if we did not have to fight unnecessary wars brought about, indirectly, by Israel's stance towards its Arab neighbours.

For too long Israel has enjoyed a "free ride" in the Middle East - time to read them the riot act, Mr Obama?