In a blistering campaign speech Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted his political rivals for being “weak” and said that the left was incapable of defending Israel from enemies who would see it destroyed.
Speaking at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds at a Likud event to present the party’s slate for the upcoming elections, Netanyahu also promised to change Israel’s political system, proposing reforms that he predicted would result in a stable government if his Likud party wins reelection on March 17.
Netanyahu said that Hatnua party leader Livni and Labor chief Isaac Herzog, who are running together on a single list, want to surrender to the country’s enemies.
“Tzipi and Boujie [Herzog] will stand up to Hamas? To Hezbollah? To Iran? They won’t stand up to the international pressures for even a second,” he said derisively. “I’ll tell you why. Not only because they are weak, but also because they want to capitulate. They just want to withdraw [from territory] and to give in.
“That has been the path of the left for 20 years now,” continued Netanyahu scornfully. “With boundless enthusiasm they believed that withdrawing from Gaza would yield peace. What did Boujie say at the time? ‘A stable Palestinian entity will take over the territory when it is vacated.’ Which stable Palestinian entity took over the territory? Hamas.”
Hamas and Hezbollah are “still relevant,” said Netanyahu. “Yes, we have a new Middle East, but it’s the Middle East of Islamic State.” (He used the Hebrew name “Da’ash” for IS, punning it with the similar-sounding “hadash,” the Hebrew word for new.) “The left doesn’t understand that even if we withdraw to the last centimeter, there are elements who want to wipe us out. This desire, this rejection of of our right to exist, is the root of the conflict.”
Responding on Channel 2 to the prime minister’s speech, Herzog said that Netanyahu had himself proved weak in the face of Hamas during the war in Gaza over the summer, and that he was detached from reality.
“People have heard these speeches time and again, but their economic situation is still bad,” said Herzog.
In its response, the centrist Yesh Atid said Netanyahu had opened his campaign “with a slap in the face to the people of Israel. Without a word on the cost of living, the housing crisis and the need to support the middle class and the weakest in our society. Without a word on the social budgets for the citizens of Israel.”
Highlighting alleged corruption in government, it said “corruption begins at the top. It begins with Netanyahu’s demand for a private jet and for the public to pay for the water in his swimming pool in Caesarea. Corruption is transferring 70 million shekels to Beit El which should be used to protect the people who live around the Gaza Strip.”
During his speech, Netanyahu also said that if he wins the upcoming elections, he will propose — within the first 100 days — that the head of the largest party would automatically form the new government. Netanyahu has promised similar reforms in the past.
Currently, the president tasks a party leader with forming the new government based on the recommendations of the other party leaders. After the 2009 elections, Netanyahu was asked to create the government, even though the Tzipi Livni-led Kadima party won more seats.
He also said that he would push for the prime minister to be automatically elected for four years, and to limit the possibility of toppling the government to extreme cases, supported by a special majority.
“These changes will cause citizens to gather into two large parties — Likud or Labor,” he said. “The public will decide which of them will lead the country.”
Netanyahu pointed out that there have been 33 government changes in the 66 years of Israel’s existence, which “exacts a huge price from the economy and from the people because of the instability.”
The prime minister said that a large Likud party would be able to pass major reforms, blaming ex-finance minister Yair Lapid for holding up the project to move major Israel Defense Forces bases to the Negev.
Netanyahu pointed to a list of centrist parties over the years — “trendy parties,” he called them — which collapsed as quickly as they rose to prominence: “Shinui, the Center Party, the Pensioners’ Party, Kadima, Yesh Atid, Hatnua — they all disappointed. It is impossible to operate with a bunch of parties like this.”
By law, governments fall when they lose the support of the Knesset and cannot muster a majority of MKs to vote down the opposition’s weekly “no-confidence” motions.
Once they are felled, a new Knesset coalition may be cobbled together to form a new government without elections — or the country goes to elections.
Governments must also fall if they fail to pass a state budget.
The Knesset has seen a series of attempts at reforming Israel’s electoral system, including the institution for a few years of a separate ballot to elect the prime minister.
In the outgoing Knesset, a “Governance Law” passed which, among other measures, raised the electoral threshold from 2 percent of the popular vote to 3.25%, likely reducing the number of small parties that will be elected to the next Knesset.
Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.