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    Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, then Israel's chief of staff, shakes the hand of defence minister Moshe Yaalon at a press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014

    ‘He's a Survivor': Can Netanyahu Hold Off Challenge From Ex Israeli Army Chief?

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    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of corruption and fraud. Sputnik spoke to Dr Jacob Eriksson, from the University of York and Dr Ofer Kenig of the Israel Democracy Institute, about how it might affect the outcome of next month's general election.

    Israel faces an election on 9 April and the main challenge to Netanyahu and his ruling Likud Party comes not from their traditional rivals, Labor, but a new party which takes its name from the colours of the national flag.

    Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) is led by Benny Gantz, a former lieutenant general in the Israeli Defence Force and chief of staff, who has teamed up with Yair Lapid, a former Finance Minister, and Moshe Ya'alon.

    "They are centrist and can be described as hawkish leftists. Benny Gantz is a former chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon is also a former chief of staff. There is a military core which has led to some, including the right wing, referring to them in dismissive terms as a junta," said Dr Jacob Eriksson, Al Tajir Lecturer in Post-War Recovery Studies at the University of York.

    "Netanyahu has identified himself as Mr Security. But the Blue & White are a centrist alternative. They can play the security card and that threatens Netanyahu," Dr. Eriksson told Sputnik.

    Former IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz
    © AP Photo / Dan Balilty
    Former IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz

    The latest polls have the Blue & White Party ahead of Likud, with Labor miles behind.

    The Blue & White Party is forecast to win 36 seats in the Knesset, with Likud taking 30 and Labor a paltry seven seats.

    Dr Eriksson said there was little or no chance of Likud dropping Netanyahu before the election despite the charges he faced.

    "Netanyahu is so closely identified with the party these days. He is the longest serving Israeli prime minister and I don't think the allegations and the indictment will make Likud drop him but it's an open question as to what effect the charges are having. The initial suggestion from polling numbers is that he has not plummeted as you might conventionally expect. He is a political survivor and has shown remarkable skills when it comes to political adaptability," Dr Eriksson told Sputnik.

    He said Netanyahu was portraying the charges against him in a similar way to Donald Trump and the Robert Mueller investigation.

    "Netanyahu is trying to frame it as a campaign by the left to delegitimise him and there will be a variety of reactions to that in Israel. Some will share that view but there will be others in his base who say that maybe this is not ideal and I'm not willing to condone corruption but I still fundamentally agree with his policy approaches and he is still the best candidate to lead the country," Dr Eriksson told Sputnik.

    Dr Ofer Kenig, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, explained the demise of Labor in recent years.

    "The public sees Labor and the left has being responsible for the Oslo accord and the peace process and especially the collapse of the peace process and the second intifada which claimed the lives of hundreds of Israelis," Dr Kenig told Sputnik.

    "Since 1977 when the right wing first took power (under Menachem Begin) there have only been two times when Labor took power and both were under former IDF chiefs, Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 and Ehud Barak in 1999," Dr Kenig told Sputnik.

    He said Labor had approached Gantz after he left the IDF in 2015 but he had "made a choice to go it alone".

    "He may have realised his best option was to form a party of his own. The Labour Party today is not an asset, it's a liability. It's a damaged brand. Its biggest success came in the last election when it was then known as the Zionist Union, not Labor," Dr Kenig told Sputnik.

    He said another factor was that around a million Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union had arrived in the 1990s and "95 percent" of them were aligned with right-wing parties.

    "They grew up in the Soviet Union and it made them resent anything that looks red or smells vaguely like communism," Dr Kenig told Sputnik.

    Dr Kenig said next month's election was in many ways a referendum on Netanyahu.

    "In my assessment the election is really about two issues. There is the pro- or anti-Bibi vote. It's like a referendum on his leadership," Dr Kenig told Sputnik.

    President Bill Clinton presides over ceremonies marking the signing of the 1993 peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians on the White House lawn with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, right
    © AP Photo / Ron Edmonds
    President Bill Clinton presides over ceremonies marking the signing of the 1993 peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians on the White House lawn with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, right

    "And then there is a collision of different perceptions of democracy. There is a liberal/civil rights/strong media/strong courts version of democracy or there is democracy in a thin aspect with majority rule and something similar to Orban's Hungary," Dr Kenig told Sputnik.

    He said that because of the proportional representation system and the balance of power in the Knesset, it would be a "tremendous challenge" for Gantz to form a governing coalition, even if Blue & White itself won more seats than Likud.

    "Likud will still have a majority with its right-wing allies…and as things stand Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc would have more seats than the centre left and Netanyahu would probably be invited by the president to form a government," Dr Kenig told Sputnik.

    One of those parties who might even go into coalition with Likud is Otzma Yehudit, who were narrowly cleared to participate in the election on Wednesday, 6 March, despite their history of racist incitement against Arabs.

    So how will the election affect the so-called peace process with the Palestinians?

    Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump chat as White House senior advisor Jared Kushner is seen in between them, during their meeting at the King David hotel in Jerusalem May 22, 2017
    © REUTERS / Kobi Gideon/Courtesy of Government Press Office
    Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump chat as White House senior advisor Jared Kushner is seen in between them, during their meeting at the King David hotel in Jerusalem May 22, 2017

    "If the Blue & White Party does well there is talk of diplomatic engagement," said Dr Eriksson, who said everyone was waiting for the peace plan proposals which Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, has been putting together and is due to unveil after the election.

    "The Palestinians are rightly sceptical about the Trump administration," said Dr Eriksson.

    Trump angered Palestinians when he agreed to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

    "The Palestinians are not holding out a great deal of hope about the peace plan. It's a pretty bleak picture for the Palestinians going forward," Dr Eriksson told Sputnik. 

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    prime minister, Palestinian peace process, coalition, election, Blue and White Party, Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Likud Party, Israeli Labor Party, Benny Gantz, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel
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