Pro-settlement extremists to gain from Israel’s right shift
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The surge in popularity of a pro-settlement movement has caught Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by surprise, prompting him to call on his right-wing base for support in the January 22 snap legislative election.
How much further right can Benjamin Netanyahu go? With only two weeks to go before Israel’s much-anticipated legislative elections, the country’s prime minister is feeling the heat from what Israeli pundits have branded the surprise of this 2013 campaign: the emergence of a charismatic pro-settler leader.
The latest opinion surveys suggest that Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home movement could become the third most important party in the Israeli parliament. Despite his comfortable lead in the polls, Netanyahu felt obliged in light of this to remind his right-wing base to cast ballots for his governing Likud faction, rather than for his new hawkish competitor.
Bennett’s meteoric rise in the polls has yet to translate into proper political influence. But with his military background and his success as an IT entrepreneur, the American-born 40-year-old leader has managed to capture the mood of Israel’s growing pro-settlement community.
While Netanyahu continues to pay lip-service to the two-state solution, Bennett has come out in favour of annexing 60% of the West Bank to boost the establishment of Jewish settlements.
"I will do everything in my ability, forever, to prevent a Palestinian state from being founded within the land of Israel," Bennett said in a campaign speech in late December 2012.
But while Bennett’s rise in the polls has been capturing international headlines, several Israeli far-right figures have quietly been gaining crucial influence within Netanyahu’s own Likud party, rising to eligible positions within the party’s list in last November primaries.
Likud’s rightward drift
Several senior politicians regarded as the party's moderate voices -- Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan, and Benny Begin -- were then pushed off the Likud’s list as party members opted to propel several candidates linked to the settlers’ ideology into parliament.
The most prominent far-right figure now likely to enter the Israeli Knesset is not then, in fact, the media darling Bennett, but longtime leader of the Likud’s “Jewish Leadership” faction, Moshe Feiglin.
Feiglin's political clout among the settlers constituency can be judged by Netanyahu’s repeated efforts over the years to prevent him from reaching an eligible slot on the Likud’s list. In 2005, the Israeli leader went as far as advocating last minute changes to the Likud internal charter in order to prevent Feiglin from getting a spot on the party's list.
Just like Bennett, Feiglin is an outspoken opponent of the two-state solution and would rather pay the Palestinians to emigrate than find some arrangements to share the disputed land. His deep-rooted contempt for the Arabs was captured by a New Yorker reporter who was investigating the settlers’ movement in 2004.
"You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic. You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers... The Arab destroys everything he touches," Feiglin told the New Yorker.
Similar racist comments prompted the UK Home Secretary to ban him from entering Britain in 2008 on the ground that his anti-Arab diatribes could foster hatred and provoke terrorist violence.
As far-right extremists further entrench themselves both within and outside the ruling Likud, any attempt by centre-left parties to moderate Netanyahu’s future government may remain wishful thinking.