Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday there would be no Palestinian state if he were reelected, in a last-ditch effort to woo rightwing voters on the eve of a general election.
Polling stations are to open at 0500 GMT on Tuesday for Israel’s second snap general election in three years in a ballot experts agree is likely to be a referendum on the Netanyahu years.
With his rightwing Likud trailing the centre-left Zionist Union in the latest opinion polls, Netanyahu said that if his rivals were elected security would be compromised and they would give up total Israeli control over Jerusalem.
“We will continue to build to fortify Jerusalem so its division will not be possible and it will remain united forever,” he said on a tour of Har Homa, a settlement neighbourhood of annexed east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu, who is seeking a third consecutive term, vowed he would never allow the Palestinians to establish a capital in the city’s eastern sector and pledged to build “thousands” of settler homes.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their future state, and continued settlement building has incensed the international community, which sees it as an obstacle to peace.
Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni of being ready to abandon Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its indivisible capital.
But Netanyahu’s most strident statement came when he was asked by the rightwing NRG website if it was true that there would be no Palestinian state established if he was reelected.
“Indeed,” said Netanyahu, who in 2009 had endorsed the idea of two states living side by side.
He later told public radio the two-state solution was now irrelevant, saying the “reality has changed” and “any territory which would be handed over would be taken over by radical Islamists”.
– Security and Jerusalem –
Netanyahu has based his campaign solidly on security issues, notably the Iranian nuclear threat, giving short shrift to the focus on economic issues in centre-left campaigning.
“If Tzipi and Bougie set up the next government, Hamastan 2 will be established on these hills here,” he said in Har Homa, using the nickname of his key challenger, Labour leader Herzog.
“Hamastan” is a derogatory term used by Israeli politicians to refer to the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas since 2007.
Herzog has dismissed Netanyahu’s jibes.
On Sunday he pledged to “safeguard” Jerusalem “in actions, not just words, more than any other leader”, and on Monday insisted Jerusalem would remain forever Israel’s “undivided capital”.
Former prime minister and Labour leader Ehud Barak came out in support of Herzog, calling him “experienced and responsible” and someone who could be relied upon to ensure Israel’s safety.
– Polls put Zionist Union ahead –
Despite Netanyahu’s vitriol, the Zionist Union is tipped to come out on top in the election.
Final opinion polls published late last week put the Zionist Union ahead with 25-26 seats with Netanyahu’s Likud taking 20-22 in the 120-seat Knesset.
But experts have warned about their reliability of the polls, pointing to the 2013 election when they completely failed to predict the level of support for centrist newcomer Yesh Atid.
“In all previous elections we had considerable differences between the predictions of the public opinion polls and (the results),” said Professor Avraham Diskin, a political scientist from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
“Yesh Atid didn’t get more than 10 or 11 seats in the public opinion polls and finally got twice as many — 19 seats.”
The leader of the party which secures most votes does not necessarily become the next premier — as in 2009 when the centrist Kadima party then headed by Livni effectively won the vote but lost the election in a race which brought Netanyahu to power for a second term.
“In 2009, (Likud) had a 100-percent chance of forming a government while the leader of the largest party, Tzipi Livni, had no chance whatsoever — and therefore she was not nominated,” Diskin said.
Under Israel’s complex electoral system, the task of forming a government does not automatically fall to the party with the largest number of votes, but to the MP or party leader with the best chance of cobbling together a coalition with a parliamentary majority of 61.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has also made overtures to centre-right Kulanu party, seen as the kingmaker, offering the finance portfolio to its leader Moshe Kahlon who dismissed this as “spin”.