Gaza war widens lead of Israel's conservative Likud Party
Polls show Benjamin Netanyahu likely to be next prime minister as Israelis vote on Feb. 10.
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Mr. Netanyahu, who had the awkward role of defending the government to the international press during the Gaza offensive, has resumed his criticism of this government's Gaza policy. Right-wing allies of Netanyahu have warned that the military operation has left Hamas in a position to threaten Israel in the future.Skip to next paragraph
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Just a few weeks ago, before the fighting, the campaign focused on good government, economics, and leadership.
"Today it's a different world. Security and leadership, mainly in times of crisis, have moved center stage," wrote Yossi Verter, a political commentator in the Haaretz newspaper. "Netanyahu is feeling good – Hamas was always his preferred playing field. In 2006 he was talking about 'Hamastan,' and nobody wanted to listen."
To be sure, the biggest single winner from the war has been Mr. Barak and his Labor Party, which seemed to be fading into irrelevancy with polls indicating a fourth or fifth place finish prior to the war. Labor's 50 percent jump in popularity puts it in third place and makes Barak a leading candidate to continue as defense minister in the next government, but he's still far behind in the race for prime minister.
Netanayhu's Likud party continues to lead Livni's Kadima party by a range of three to six seats, according to recent polls. What's more, right-wing and religious parties are projected to control a 10-seat majority over a coalition of center, left, and Arab parties in the 120-seat parliament. That would allow Netanyahu, who first served as prime minister for three years in the 1990s, a leg up in forming a coalition.
Netanyahu has said that before negotiating a final peace deal can be reached with the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority needs to build up the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and implement further political reforms. Critics say such a delay in the peace process comes when many fear that the window of opportunity is closing for a two-state solution.
Livni's prospects as prime minister looked more promising at the start of the Gaza war, when several polls showed a coalition of center-left wing and Arab parties pulling even with the right wing. Livni is now coming under fire from those who were unhappy with the UN Security Council Resolution that called for an immediate cease-fire and the international pressure to withdraw from Gaza.
She is also criticized for the failure to force Hamas to negotiate over Corporal Shalit, the Israeli soldier taken hostage.
Political analysts note, however, a fragile cease-fire with Hamas means the fighting might not be finished, creating a volatile environment for public opinion leading up to the Feb. 10 vote. "It's very fluid," says Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University. "If something happens and the Israeli army retaliates, [the fighting] won't be over."