First Published: 2013-01-20

 

‘Something new is beginning’ with rising Zionist star in Israel

 

Polls show Bennett's Jewish Home party could win around 15 seats in 120-seat Knesset, making it third biggest party in parliament.

 

Middle East Online

By Michael Blum - KIRYAT ARBA (Palestinian Territories)

Outspoken supporter of settlement enterprise

Israel's settlers, once firm supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, have a new political star: Naftali Bennett, head of the hardline nationalist Jewish Home.

His determined stance against the creation of a Palestinian state and outspoken support for the settlement enterprise have won over a significant chunk of voters among the Jewish settler population, which numbers more than 550,000.

"Bennett has a better platform than Netanyahu's," said Roni Akrich, a teacher of Jewish thought who lives in Kiryat Arba, one of the West Bank's more hardline settlements which is located next to the Palestinian city of Hebron.

"It's important that Netanyahu has to his right real representatives of our ideas," added Akrich, a one-time Likud voter.

"Likud believes in our ideals but it is very flexible," he said.

Rafi Smith, an Israeli pollster, said that Bennett, who campaigns under the slogan “Something new is beginning,” had brought new blood to an election landscape littered with all-too-familiar political faces.

“He brings something fresh and a sense of hope, and with the whole country shifting more to the right in recent years, he represents that trend,” Smith said, noting the robust support for Bennett among young voters.

Polls show Bennett's Jewish Home party could win around 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, making it the third biggest party in parliament.

The settler vote accounts only for about four percent of the Israeli electorate, but the bloc generally turns out en masse to cast their ballots, giving them outsized sway.

Bennett is so sure of winning the community's support that he has barely campaigned in the settlements.

"Those for whom the integrity of the land of Israel is important will vote for our party," he said.

Bennett cannot, however, count on uniform support from the settler bloc, and he has seen the settler leadership, including his former employers at the Yesha Council which represents settlers throughout the West Bank, stand against him.

Last week, council president Danny Dayan announced he was stepping down to campaign actively for Likud, which is running on a joint list with Yisrael Beitenu, led by former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, himself a settler.

"The most important thing is to strengthen Likud and not divide the right-wing vote among multiple parties," said Dayan, who was Bennett's boss when he served as director of the Yesha Council.

"I admit that I'm disappointed by his reaction," Bennett said.

Other settler leaders have also sided with Likud, with 15 mayors and regional council heads signing an appeal for residents to vote for Netanyahu.

Bennett's camp dismisses such tactics as an attempt to curry favour with Netanyahu, who is virtually guaranteed to head the next government.

"It seems mostly like tactical support to ensure further construction projects in the future," a member of Bennett's camp said on condition of anonymity.

A smaller portion of the settler bloc is also eschewing Bennett, because they consider his views to be insufficiently pro-settlement.

"It's an important part of my platform, but it's not the only part," Bennett acknowledges.

"What we want is to take part in the building of a society that is more just for all Israeli citizens, and not just those in Judaea and Samaria," he said, using the Biblical name for the West Bank.

That admission concerns Israelis like Yehuda Shimon, a lawyer who lives in Havat Gilad, an unauthorised settler outpost.

The Palestinians and the international community consider all Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law, but the Israeli government only frowns on those built without state permission, such as Havat Gilad.

"I don't trust him, he's too much like Netanyahu, a man who has dismantled outposts and frozen Jewish construction," Shimon said.

"He's prepared to give the Arabs autonomy, which is against the (biblical) Torah," he adds, referring to Bennett's plan to annex 60 percent of the West Bank to Israel and give some measure of self-rule to Palestinians in the remaining parts.

For Shimon and most of the others in Havat Gilad, the only party worth voting for is the ultra-right Otzma LeYisrael faction, which pledges "no compromise" with the Palestinians and is regarded as extremist and racist by many Israelis.

 

Warring Syrians set for first face-to-face at Astana

Turkey moves closer to expanding Erdogan powers

IS demolishes more monuments in recaptured Palmyra

Bodies of firemen recovered from Tehran tower

Police, ruling party hit by attacks in Istanbul

Bomb kills 4 in refugee camp near Syrian border with Jordan

Egypt says political solution 'only way' for Libya ahead of talks

Turkey concedes including Assad in Syria talks

Netanyahu congratulates ‘friend’ Trump in tweet

Israel denounces Belgian plan to interrogate ex-minister

Denmark grants soldiers permission to fight IS in Syria

Car bomb near Benghazi mosque wounds 12

UN calls IS destruction of Palmyra relics ‘war crime’

Armed settlers rescued from angry Palestinian villagers

Petition filed for Israeli court to return body of Bedouin

29 Yemen rebels killed by Saudi-led air strikes

Iran losing hope of saving trapped firefighters

Algeria’s Islamist parties unite ahead of April elections

British worker dies on Qatar 2022 World Cup site

Search continues for trapped Iran firefighters

More than 40 jihadists killed in north Syria air strikes

Trump to be sworn in as 45th US president

Trump to retain envoy to anti-IS coalition

More than 20 firefighters feared dead in Tehran building collapse

Explosions in Gaza target Fatah member

UN expert tells Saudi to end ban on women driving

Desalination plant opens in Gaza to tackle water crisis

Syria’s Assad hopes rebels disarm after Astana talks

UN says 400,000 Syrian child refugees in Turkey not in school

Libya PM skips Davos to focus on electricity crisis

Greece, Cyprus insist peace deal must include Turkish withdrawal

Mistura to lead UN delegation at Astana Syria talks

Turkey slams French satire song about Istanbul attack

Saudi minister says kingdom to become ‘softer’ after reforms

Bahrain lifts ban on electronic Al-Wasat newspaper

Arab Israelis strike in protest over house demolitions

Iran sees Syria talks as opportunity to gain influence

Kuwait upholds sentence for three royals for insulting judges

Tunisia facing mounting calls against jail-for-joint law

Iran's oldest high-rise building on fire collapses

IMF says Egypt on track for next aid tranche

Bahrain police disperse Shiite protesters

Key Syria rebel group opts out of Astana peace talks

Moroccan Sufi ‘living master’ dies at 95

France says Iraqi jihadist among 2015 stadium bombers