For more than three years PM Netanyahu has been able to slip back and forth between the Right and Left. He recognized the legitimacy of a Palestinian state (albeit “demilitarized”), agreed to a 10-month building freeze, allowed DM Ehud Barak to withhold building permits and destroy Jewish homes, and refused to accept an official report on the legal status of Judea and Samaria which he commissioned.
He represented Israel magnificently in international fora, especially the US Congress, but did little to change Israel’s basic economic structure, dominated by monopolies, cartels, and the Histadrut. He found money to help Channel 10, but little for teachers, nurses and doctors. Well, no one’s perfect.
Thanks to able ministers, major changes in telecommunications, environment, and education were achieved. But basic costs for food and housing have risen, intra-city mass transportation is still inefficient, traffic bottlenecks that waste time and gas persist, and main roads are still dangerous.
With political rivals gaining on him, primarily over the issue of 'settlements', PM Netanyahu will be forced to clarify where he stands. He may get away with E1, Ramat Shlomo and Gilo because these areas of eastern Jerusalem are consensual. The legitimacy of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria is his real test.
His advantage is that the Right does not want to topple him; they want him to implement policies that support the settlement movement. To his disadvantage, he does not want to be seen as leading a Right-wing government. The Left would like to defeat him, but have neither the votes nor a credible candidate.
Naftali Bennett, head of the Bayit Yehudi party, has challenged conventional Israeli politics by offering a clear agenda that has wide appeal and confronts the issues which PM Netanyahu has until now successfully avoided. Bennett’s challenge is not only to PM Netanyahu, but to every other candidate as well, because of his shifting the campaign from personalities to issues.
Bennett’s threat to the political system is that he says what he believes, he has a plan and he can be trusted. For Israeli voters disappointed by candidates they elected, frustrated by broken promises and cynical politicians, Bennett has changed the rules of the game.
For Bennett, it’s not about power, it’s about integrity. This has stirred a revolution in Israeli politics that voters understand and politicians would do well to heed.