PM goes back to playbook to woo right-wing voters

PM Benjamin Netanyahu goes back to his pre-election promises in an attempt to get right wing voters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin hold a press conference announcing Zehut's withdrawal from the elections. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin hold a press conference announcing Zehut's withdrawal from the elections.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
In March 2016, just days before an unexpectedly close election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in a pre-election interview that he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“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. “There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders.”
This statement – seen as backtracking from his agreement to some form of a two-state agreement during his famous Bar-Ilan speech of 2009 – was widely considered as a desperate pre-election attempt to woo right-wing voters from parties to his Right, to the Likud.
Something worked, for Netanyahu won the elections and formed the coalition.
Just over three years later, in April 2019, mere days before the election, Netanyahu gave a television interview and – seemingly out of nowhere – supported the idea of extending sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria, saying – when asked about the issue – “Yes, we will move on to the next stage.”
Again this was widely viewed as an effort to woo right-wing voters from parties to his Right, and, again, it seemed to work as again Netanyahu won the election.
It was little surprise, therefore, that when Netanyahu chose Elkana in Samaria as the place to welcome students on the first day back to school on Sunday, he would use the opportunity – so close to the elections in just two weeks’ time – to follow the same pattern and announce some kind of policy change toward the West Bank, again in an effort to woo voters to the Likud from parties to his Right. In this case, Yamina.
And the prime minister did not disappoint.
“We are building new houses,” he said. “We will not uproot anyone – there will not be another Gush Katif. There won’t be any more uprooting [of settlements]. With God’s help, we’ll apply Jewish sovereignty on all the settlements, as part of the land of Israel and as part of the State of Israel.”
So what does that mean? Does that mean that Netanyahu, who has been in power now for more than 13 years, will suddenly do after the election what he could have done up until this time and annex the settlements to Israel?
Obviously not. It means that Netanyahu, who has reigned for so long precisely because he is a brilliant politician, realizes that the danger to his continued rule comes not from Blue and White, Labor or the Democratic Union. Rather, it comes from the Right.
Netanyahu needs to assure that following the September 17 elections, President Reuven Rivlin will have no choice but to give him the first opportunity to form a coalition. And to do that, he needs to get more Knesset seats than Blue and White.
With the polls showing Likud and Blue and White running neck-and-neck, Netanyahu needs to pull voters from the other parties. He is definitely not going to do that from Labor or the Democratic Union, and unlikely to do so from Blue and White with hard-right rhetoric.
His hope, therefore, is to pull the voters from Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu and Otzma Yehudit. His hope is that with a pledge to annex the settlements, some of those voters may say that Netanyahu is, indeed, right-wing enough for them, and – to ensure that he be the candidate mandated with forming a government – it is worth voting for him.
Had Netanyahu made these comments in September of 2016, it would have made huge headlines. But the comments made much less noise in September 2019, just two weeks before the elections, since most realize that what Netanyahu said on Sunday is campaign rhetoric and political posturing, not a declaration of policy that he will implement if he wins the election and forms the next government.