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    A man walks past a Likud election campaign billboard, depicting U.S. President Donald Trump shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem February 4, 2019

    Likud Foreign Affairs Chief Reveals Three Main Challenges Israel Faces

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    Israelis have begun casting their votes in a hotly contested general election. Ahead of the vote, Eli Hazan, foreign affairs director of PM Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, told Sputnik that a day before the ballot, the PM's bloc trailed the centre-left Blue and White coalition according to the polls, so it will be a challenging election.

    Sputnik: What are the main challenges that Israel is currently facing when it comes to foreign policy?

    Eli Hazan: First of all, we have to deal with global terrorism, with the rise of the extreme left around the world, and a misunderstanding of Israeli policy by our friends in the West. Those are the three main challenges, and it seems to me that as long as Netanyahu is in power, it seems to me that we know how to do it.

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    Sputnik: And why would you advise a voter to choose Likud? What has it been successful at in the past?

    Eli Hazan: Almost in any (every) aspect. First of all, Netanyahu has been in the political arena for the last 30 years, ever since he came back from the United Nations. He came back to power in 2009 and he changed Israel dramatically, in almost in every aspect. Take the Israeli economy, the GDP [per capita], for instance. In 2009 Israel was ranked 43 in the world and today we're number 25, even [higher than] Japan and Britain. The economy has [been a] great, great achievement; take the unemployment in Israel, it is 3.7%, it's almost nothing. The gap between the poor and the rich became much clearer, the situation is much better. This is when we're speaking about the economy. Besides that, the state of Israel was established by two different groups of immigrants. Those who immigrated from the outside, they were neglected in the periphery in the state of Israel, in the north and south. Since 2009, Netanyahu has invested a lot of money, a lot of funds in order to [provide] transport infrastructure, and you can see it right now. Besides, we have a lot of international investment in the state of Israel, and if you take all those things, this is why Netanyahu [has been] so popular for so many years.

    Sputnik: What are your expectations from Tuesday's elections? Do you think that Netanyahu has a high chance of being re-elected? It seems that it was quite a tight race and, of course, there is the dark shadow of the corruption scandal that looms above Netanyahu's head.

    Eli Hazan: First of all, in the polls, we are behind the Blue and White alliance right now, in the last polls before the election, but it reminds me of the story of 2015. In 2015 we were quite left behind in the polls but in the end Netanyahu won the challenge, so we call to all the right-wing [voters] in the state of Israel: go vote in order to give Netanyahu a chance to form a government.

    Regarding the allegations of investigations as you could see, if you lived in Israel, it doesn't have that effect. In general, Netanyahu has 30 seats with Likud, and according to the polls, it's got more or less the same seats right now. Besides that, we're the right (wing) bloc and right now, according to the polls the right bloc is bigger than the left bloc, but it depends. If Blue and White get more seats than us, they will probably have the keys to form a coalition, and that is the big challenge for us.

    Sputnik: What are your thoughts on the prospects for the kinds of coalitions we might see formed?

    Eli Hazan: We want to create a right bloc coalition, as we promised to the public. If the public gives us enough votes, we will create, as Prime Minister Netanyahu called it, copy-paste. He would like to take the former coalition and form it as a new coalition, but for that we need a majority, a very significant majority, and this is our challenge; right now we are behind in the polls and we're going to work very hard.

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    Sputnik: What kind of a coalition should we expect to see in the event that Blue and White wins?

    Eli Hazan: You should ask the representatives of Blue and White. Let me tell you one thing, this is one of the fake news that the Blue and White told Israelis, that they will call upon Likud to be part of the coalition, the next coalition, and Likud will be part of this next coalition. It is completely untrue! We don't want to go into a coalition with Blue and White and, besides that, technically Likud cannot be part of this coalition.

    Sputnik: Why is that? Can you elaborate on that?

    Eli Hazan: According to the law in Israel, you need 42 days in order to form a government. In Likud's constitution, if you lose the election you need to (hold) primaries for the leadership of the party. It takes at least three months; in that time no one can decide whether Likud joins the coalition or not, so technically it's impossible for Blue and White to take Likud.

    Sputnik: And you don't see any chances of further cooperation, if that is necessary to form a majority?

    Eli Hazan: No, I don't see that because our basic values are completely different. Take for instance politically, they are leftist, we're rightist. Take economically: the Israelis are suffering from the (high) cost of living, and the candidate of Blue and White to be Minister of Finance is Meir Cohen, the former head of the biggest unions in Israel; [the one] who created the problem of the cost of living is the candidate, one of them; set to be the Minister of Finance of Blue and White; we cannot accept it, not at all.

    Sputnik: Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he would seek an extension of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements in the West Bank, and this (story) was like a bomb, dropped right before people went to the polls. In your view, will that really help keep Israel safe, and why did Netanyahu choose this strategy? Is this pretty much one of his methods of getting the vote?

    Eli Hazan: First of all, you should know that the big settlements in the state of Israel are considers as a consensus. For instance in the city of Ma'ale Adumim, the city of Ariel, moreover in the Clinton presidency in 2000, even he said that those settlements will be under Israeli sovereignty when the time comes for peace. Netanyahu says what a lot of Israelis have thought in the past, to take what we call the big block of settlements and to enforce Israeli sovereignty over them. Why now? Because it's on the table, we have a new president, I mean he's not that new, but President Trump has already recognised the sovereignty of Israel in the Golan Heights and this is a completely new situation, a completely new game, as we call it.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker 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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