Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday urged Israelis to vote for his party in order to ensure a stable government and help fend off a possible challenge from an emerging left-wing bloc.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Netanyahu said that Israel, which he called “the most threatened country on earth,” needs a strong ruling party and not one dependent on the goodwill of smaller political factions.
“There is no doubt that the left-wing parties will try to unite either now, before the elections, or undoubtedly after the elections, with the single goal of toppling a government led by me. As the past shows, they will stop at nothing to achieve this. The only way to ensure that the right remains in power is to vote for me and the joint Likud-Beytenu list,” said Netanyahu.
“The smaller the Likud is, the smaller are the chances of us forming the next government, and vice versa. That’s why any vote that doesn’t go to me increases the risk of the left returning to power,” he said.
Netanyahu was also interviewed on Army Radio, where he said that the possible union of the Labor Party, Hatnua (Tzipi Livni’s party) and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid made the voters’ choice at the ballots a stark choice between left and right.
Netanyahu’s comments appeared aimed chiefly at halting his party’s drop in the polls, which show Likud bleeding votes to the religious, pro-settlement Jewish Home party.
In the relatively rare media interviews, Netanyahu also set out his priorities if elected to a second term as prime minister.
“Overcoming Iran’s nuclear threat is the main goal for the next term. There are other important goals, like blanketing the country with Iron Dome [missile defense systems], strengthening the economy by adding jobs and lowering the housing prices just like we lowered the cost of cellphones,” Netanyahu said. “But to achieve all these goals, I need a large ruling party behind me. Prime ministers in Israel, from [David] Ben-Gurion to [Menachem] Begin, made their important steps with large parties behind them. You can’t make serious decisions when you’re divided into factions.”
Asked about the statements made in a weekend interview by former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, who charged Netanyahu with being indecisive, failing to take responsibility and flip-flopping on a range of issues including security, Netanyahu responded dismissively.
“The citizens of Israel are smarter than that,” he said. “They know that over the last four years Israel’s security has been enhanced. They see how we enlisted a large global coalition against Iran, to essentially put in place an international siege against the biggest threat to our security — an Iranian nuclear weapon. They see that we led Operation Pillar of Defense in a responsible and levelheaded manner, leading to strong results, and they see other things we did, like the completion of a security barrier that keeps out infiltrators and terror from the Sinai, and there are others.”
He suggested Diskin’s criticism was motivated by the upcoming election. Last year, Diskin made headlines when he accused Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of irresponsible and “messianic” leadership.
“Those who attack me need to settle on a tactic: On one hand they charge me with operating out of personal interests, and on the other, they claim I am driven by messianic impulses. The truth is, I am on a mission, but it is not messianic. I look around and see Iran building up its armaments, Syria in possession of chemical weapons, rockets in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas, a flood of infiltrators and terror elements on the Sinai border. My mission is to ensure the Jewish State’s security and future,” he said.
“One thing stands at the forefront: maintaining the eternal survival of the Jewish state. That’s what guides me, and I have no doubt the majority of Israel’s citizens know that simple fact.”
Asked if he could live with international guarantees of a non-nuclear Iran, Netanyahu sounded skeptical.
“The problem with Iran is that it lies. We’ve found secret nuclear facilities a number of times, I wouldn’t trust their word on the matter. International supervision helps, but it doesn’t stop Tehran from progressing with its plans.”
Netanyahu said, however, that the Iranians have yet to cross the red line he set out during his September address to the UN.
“We don’t want them to enrich uranium in Iran, we want them to remove all the enriched products from the country and destroy the Qom facility,” said Netanyahu.
The prime minister brushed aside suggestions that his government’s recent announcement that it would advance construction of new neighborhoods in East Jerusalem might hurt Israel’s efforts to form an international coalition against Iran.
“Regarding the settlements, there were always differences of opinion between us and our international allies, but it didn’t prevent us from standing together on important issues. The widespread international support for Operation Pillar of Defense is an example of that. Some things we agree on, some things we disagree upon, it’s not new,” he said.
Netanyhau said he would not yield to international pressure to stop construction in Jerusalem. “I’m not willing to accept the fact that we can’t build in Jewish neighborhoods where we’ve been building for decades,” he said. “One of the things I know how to do as prime minister is to stand firm in the face of heavy international pressure on the one hand, and, on the other, manage the talks regarding sensitive and important issues like Iran, the missile threat and possible cyber wars. My experience is proven.”
The prime minister also defended his policy regarding renewing talks with the Palestinians.
“I did everything I could to sit at the negotiation table, [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas refused systematically. He turned to the UN, he embraced Hamas, he didn’t condemn the missiles fired at Israel. I hope he changes his position so that we can start negotiating, and do so carefully and responsibly,” said Netanyahu.
“We’re following the path I’ve laid out. I still extend an invitation to Abbas to negotiate without preconditions,” Netanyahu said. “I’ve said that if they want us to recognize a Palestinian state, they need to recognize a Jewish state. There won’t be a situation where we recognize their country and they don’t recognize us. Second, we need to end the conflict. It’s unthinkable that we’ll hand over territory and they’ll continue to fight us. Third, it needs to be demilitarized and we must guarantee Israel’s security. When people look around us it’s clear to everyone that the territory we hand over will be seized by Iran, and I’m not going to take irresponsible steps.”
Asked about the possibility of a third Palestinian uprising taking place in the West Bank, Netanyahu said, “I think we’ll know how to handle it if it happens.”
Netanyahu denied that his party was attacking its main rival for right-wing votes, Jewish Home — a strategy that, if it is being followed, appears to be failing.
“We’re not attacking anyone. It’s an election campaign, everyone wants to show what’s similar and different between him and the other options. I have no doubt that our list is the best and most experienced one out there,” he said.
The prime minister also addressed Israel’s economic situation: “In the overview, the big picture, we’re doing fine. If we look at Europe we see unemployment rates that are as high as 25 percent. Here it’s at less than 7%. We’re building infrastructure, raising the wages of teachers and doctors, building a new medical school in Safed, dealing with contract workers — not toppling the economy.
“Some of the things we promised we managed, other things we haven’t managed yet. I promised to build new roads and we did. We sealed the border and stopped illegal infiltration — I promised that. We started free education from the age of three — I promised that. Free dental care? We did it. Even if we didn’t achieve everything, this government did much of what it set out to do.”
The political reactions to Netanyahu’s radio interviews were not slow in coming.
“I heard an interview that offers no hope or vision, only threats and political analysis. I heard a prime minister who is out of touch with the public,” said Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich.
“Netanyahu’s complacency has been replaced by panic. The Likud-Beytenu is plummeting in the polls and Netanyahu, too, realizes that Livni’s drive to form a left-wing bloc can remove him from office,” read a statement issued by Hatnua.