Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Monday there would be no Palestinian state as long as he remained prime minister, an effort to shore up support among conservative security voters.
“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a video interview published on the NRG website. “Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The left does this time and time again. We are realistic and understand.”
Asked if he meant that a Palestinian state would not be established if he were to continue as Israel’s prime minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu replied, “Correct (also translated to ‘indeed’).”
The latest polls showed his Likud party slightly trailing the Leftist Zionist Union party led by Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, who predicted an “upheaval” on Tuesday. Israeli law forbids media outlets from publishing further polling results prior to the election and, when averaged, Herzog’s leftist Zionist Union party is projected to win 25 seats juxtaposed to 21 for Netanyahu’s Likud party.
During a last-minute campaign stop in east Jerusalem Monday, Netanyahu visited Har Homa, a Jewish development viewed as an illegal settlement by the Palestinians and the international community. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as their capital. Netanyahu, a longtime proponent of Jerusalem settlements, said withdrawing from occupied areas to make way for a Palestinian state would only ensure that territory will be taken over by Islamic extremists.
He had authorized construction in the area during his first term in order to block Palestinians from expanding Bethlehem, and to prevent a “Hamastan” for militants from sprouting in the hills nearby. Just two years after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Islamic militant group Hamas took over and escalated attacks on Israel, including from the recently discovered network of “terror tunnels” built with concrete supplied by the international community and Israel.
“We will preserve Jerusalem’s unity in all its parts. We will continue to build and fortify Jerusalem so that its division won’t be possible and it will stay united forever,” Netanyahu said. “Likud’s victory is the only thing that can ensure the continuation of a national leadership and will prevent the establishment of a left-wing government.”
In recent days, Netanyahu has been on a get-out-the-vote campaign blitz and has increased his nationalist rhetoric, warning a Leftist dovish government would spell disaster for the security of his country. Netanyahu called the election two years ahead of schedule, but at the time the possibility of a Likud loss was far from the minds of Israelis and analysts alike. The cycle has seen a level of international interference never before seen in Israeli elections.
In an advertisement for Netanyahu, actor Jon Voight implored Israelis to re-elect the prime minister, warning that those like Herzog who believe that deal-making is the solution to Israel’s problems are as wrong as Neville Chamberlain.
Voight said that President Obama, who has been actively working to unseat Prime Minister Netanyahu, “does not love Israel,” but rather seeks “to control Israel.”
“I love Israel. I want to see Israel survive and not be overtaken by the madmen of this world,” Voight said. “President Obama does not love Israel. His whole agenda is to control Israel, and this way, he can be friends with all of Israel’s enemies.”
Voight was referring to revelations first reported by PPD back in late January that charged the White House with actively supporting the ouster of the prime minister.
PPD learned on Monday that a bipartisan Senate committee has been established to investigate the Obama administration’s use of several taxpayer-funded State Department grants to support OneVoice, a U.S.-based left-wing activist group started by five Democrats. OneVoice received two taxpayer-funded grants from the U.S. State Department in the past year totaling $200,000 and, as PPD previously reported, joined forces with the group V15 – who has a reputed mission of “anyone but Bibi” – to defeat Netanyahu. V15 is run by well-known Obama political operative, Jeremy Bird, who served as Obama’s 2012 field director.
During a Tel Aviv rally Sunday, Netanyahu slammed outside influence through funding “from abroad” and attributed his drop in the polls to a “worldwide” effort to unseat him. Speaking to some 20,000 on Monday, he vowed there would be “no withdrawals” from the West Bank and “no concessions” to those who don’t have Israel’s vital interests in mind and heart.
“The choice is symbolic: the Likud led by me, that will continue to stand firmly for (Israel’s) vital interests, compared with a left-wing government … ready to accept any dictate,” Netanyahu said in his speech at Har Homa Monday.
Indeed, for the first time since the start of the campaign, a majority of Israelis do not believe Netanyahu will form the next government, though he still leads Herzog in terms of expectations. On March 9, Likud’s data showed that 62.3 percent thought Netanyahu would form the coalition and 19.9 percent thought that Herzog and Livni would form the government. But on Monday, the number of those who believe Netanyahu would form the government fell to 49.6 percent, while 30.4 percent thought Herzog would form the coalition.
The internal polls, which were shared with PPD, are taken by McLaughlin and associates, a U.S.-based Republican strategist. They show Mr. Netanyahu has some more room to grow among the 25,000 settlement residents, data no doubt used to justify the last-minute visit.
“There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders,” Mr. Netanyahu in the interview with NRG, a website tied to the newspaper Makor Rishon, which largely serves settlers. “There is going to be an international initiative to take us back to the 1967 lines and divide Jerusalem. These are real things. This is going to come and we need to form a solid, strong national government headed by Likud in order to ward off these initiatives.”
Still, as PPD previously examined, Netanyahu could still end up in the best position to put together a governing coalition, despite Herzog’s small yet consistent lead. Neither Likud nor the Zionist Union will garner anywhere near the 61-seat majority of the 120-seat Parliament required to outright form a government, thus the real question becomes whether it will be Netanyahu or Herzog who will persuade enough third-party support to form a coalition that puts them at the 61-vote threshold.
That candidate will earn the approval of Israeli President Reuvin Rivlin, himself a Likud party member.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas injected himself into the Israeli election recently, publicly stating that a decision to cut security ties with Israel won’t be made until after the election. Herzog and Livni have promised to work out a two-state solution with the Palestinians and the international community. Livni even met with the Fatah leader in London without authorization from Netanyahu recently. It is fair to say the issue of Israeli settlements will be back on the table in order to work out a deal on security cooperation if Herzog becomes prime minister.
Visiting his party headquarters, an upbeat Herzog talked about a “crucial” vote for the country and warned against splitting the anti-Netanyahu vote among the various centrist parties, including the rising charismatic leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party.
“Whoever wants Lapid, whoever wants Yesh Atid, in the government has to vote for us. They have no other choice,” he said. “Whoever wants an upheaval has to vote for us.”
In no small measure due to the help of President Obama’s political operatives, the Israeli election has turned on economic issues rather than the typically dominant security issues. Social welfare and other economic arguments have taken the place of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and whether Palestinians will make good on their threat to cut off security ties with Israel. The latest polls for Israel Army Radio found that more than half of Israelis surveyed plan to vote based on pocketbook issues, with fewer than 1 in 3 putting security at the top of their concerns.
Nine of 10 respondents said the cost of living would influence their choice, but ironically, Israelis still said that despite which party they will vote for, they prefer Mr. Netanyahu remain prime minister.
Meanwhile, on Monday the Zionist Union reversed themselves on a plan to rotate the premiership between Mr. Herzog of the Labor Party and Ms. Livni of the smaller Hatnua faction, stating now that Herzog alone would serve as the leader.
The rotation agreement had been seen by some voters as a sign of weakness, and Netanyahu slammed the idea focusing on the less popular Ms. Livni, who is seen as a Palestinian apologist to many centrist voters.