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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
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The Israeli Election

The right-wing parties in Israel have been gaining traction in the run-up to next week’s election, and to our mind that is a good thing. It is crucial that the world come to appreciate the broad resurgence among Israelis of the notion of a vibrant and dynamic Jewish state in the land of its biblical patrimony.

It has to be clearly understood that Israel’s leaders cannot act on a whim when it comes to relations with the Palestinians and, by extension, the United States and the European Union. Which is why we are so encouraged by the extraordinary surge of Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home Party and the popularity of the party’s Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, number four on Jewish Home’s electoral list, who has done remarkable things with the Israeli religious court system for agunot. (See Naomi Klass Mauer’s interview with Rabbi Ben Dahan here.)

Taken as we are with Mr. Bennett’s rise on the Israeli political scene, we still believe it imperative that Mr. Netanyahu achieve a significant victory as head of Likud and that the resultant coalition draw as much as possible from the right.

There is much current discussion over whether President Obama has in mind for his second term a return of the ambitious plans, so much in evidence during his first two years in office, for a settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians that expects way too much from Israel and comparatively little of the Palestinians.

There are conflicting signals from the president on down. And while some see his nomination of John Kerry for secretary of state and Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense as signaling a return to the early days, others suggest that domestic issues and Asia will occupy the administration and that Mr. Obama is wary of squandering any political capital with a fractious congress.

What is clear is that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas will be trying to press the U.S. and the West to force Israel back to the negotiating table under preconditions urged by the PA. (Just recently Jordan and the European Union separately announced plans to try to persuade the U.S. to get Israel to resume negotiations and, as demanded by the PA, abandon any further settlement construction.)

Despite some similarity of policy regarding settlements and final borders, Mr. Netanyahu has far greater political heft in the international arena than any of his counterparts on Israel’s right. Naftali Bennett is saying all the right things but lacks the standing and experience the prime minister brings to the table.

To be sure, there is no shortage of Netanyahu critics on both the right and the left. Yet he is a known quantity and has a record of standing firm against the anti-settlement movement and refusing to restart negotiations on Palestinian terms. And it should go without saying that a successor to Mr. Netanyahu from the left would be a disaster in terms of Israel being able to defend its interests in an ever-hostile diplomatic and geopolitical environment.

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