Netanyahu expected to win re-election
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TEL AVIV, Israel -- With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu widely expected to win another four-year term today as the head of Israel's government, questions have begun to emerge over how this term will differ from his previous periods in office.
Current polls suggest that the next Parliament will have a very similar balance of power between Israel's right- and left-wing groups, with some analysts arguing that Mr. Netanyahu has actually weakened his own Likud party when he merged it with Israel Beiteinu, the party of Russian Jews, last year.
"Netanyahu had thought he would ride into the next Parliament with a huge victory that would define his history as Israeli premier," said one Likud member of Parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on his party's political dealings. "That is not going to be the case."
He cited a meeting three months ago at Likud headquarters when polls suggested that Mr. Netanyahu would win more than 40 of the 120 seats in the chamber.
"There was a lot of talk at that meeting that we could do things that were unheard of, that we would reach over 50 seats," he said. "It was very heady."
At political events, Mr. Netanyahu spoke confidently of bringing lasting peace to Israel by making it a country that no other nation would dare attack. He talked about "strength" and "security" often during his campaign, and they remain words that voters repeat back in equal measures when explaining why they will support the premier again.
But in the months since, Mr. Netanyahu has rapidly lost steam in the polls, which currently place him with 33 seats -- eight fewer than Likud and Israel Beiteinu currently hold. Many of those votes have been lost to Naftali Bennett, whose staunchly pro-settler party, Jewish Home, is expected to garner 14 seats, up from the five it currently holds.
To his left in his governing coalition, Mr. Netanyahu is likely to place the Yesh Atid party, led by former Israeli television anchor Yair Lapid. The son of a former Israeli member of Parliament, Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, the younger Mr. Lapid has run his campaign by demanding that "special treatment" no longer should be given to Israel's ultra-Orthodox, and that they should be forced to serve in the army and pay taxes identical to those of secular Israelis. He has also demanded that the government immediately revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
On his right, Mr. Netanyahu could place a constellation of religious nationalist parties, including the ultra-Orthodox Shas movement, or Jewish Home. Neither of which has any ideological points in common with Yesh Atid.
"It could very well be a perfect mess," said a Netanyahu aide, who said the prime minister's team is still pondering the makeup of the coalition. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity, not having been authorized to speak publicly for the prime minister. "It is not what we expected."
First Published January 22, 2013 12:00 am