Israel's Netanyahu has little to fear ahead of vote

AFP , Sunday 23 Dec 2012

With the opposition far behind on the polls, Netanyahu can focus on how many seats his joint list will win rather than whether he will lead Israel's next parliament

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem 23 December, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

A month before Israelis go to the polls in a snap election, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has plenty to be confident about, with his only real challenges coming from within his own rightwing camp.

Polls put the joint list of his Likud Party and the Yisrael Beitenu faction far ahead of the opposition, the question now not whether Netanyahu will lead the next parliament, but how many seats his joint list will win.

Even the resignation of Yisrael Beitenu chief Avigdor Lieberman from his post as foreign minister after his indictment on corruption charges has failed to dent the list's lead, with surveys projecting it will take 37 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

In all, the rightwing nationalist bloc of parties led by the Likud-Beitenu list is expected to win 69 seats, far ahead of the opposition.

"Netanyahu had a dream recently, ahead of his second consecutive term: he wanted to be Ariel Sharon," Yossi Verter of Haaretz newspaper wrote recently, referring to the former Israeli prime minister.

"He dreamed of winning the same total of 38 Knesset seats that Likud won when it was headed by Sharon in 2003; in so doing, he would establish a government whose operation would not be contingent upon any single coalition partner and he would be unencumbered by blackmail or threats."

The main obstacle to that dream will be Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu protege who is now expected to lead the hardline national religious party Jewish Home to one of their best electoral results ever.

The latest poll published by Maariv newspaper on Friday showed the party, which now has just three seats in the Knesset, winning at least 12 seats.

If the polls are right, they would become the third strongest party in the Knesset, behind only the Likud-Beitenu list and the opposition Labour Party.

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