Gaza War May Be Over, but So Is Israeli Political Unity

Right-wing Likud leader Netanyahu is leading in the polls, in part by playing the nationalist card.

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By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch

With Israeli elections coming up February 10, right-wing Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu remains the favorite, with centrists Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of Labor battling for second. Netanyahu, being dogged by parties to his right, is playing the nationalist card, as the Jerusalem Post reports:

"We did not return to Jerusalem after praying for it to be rebuilt for 2000 years in order to give it up," Netanyahu told a throng of reporters from around the world at the City of David. "We did not unite the city in order to divide it, and my government will maintain a united Jerusalem. A sane country does not give its capital to its enemies."

Meanwhile Livni and Barak, who are competing with each other for moderate votes, have begun talking peace. The Jerusalem Post reports Livni's warnings:

"Israel must initiate, because if we don't put a plan on the table in Hebrew, we'll get a plan in Arabic and French," said the Kadima leader. "Only an Israeli initiative can reinforce Israel's interests while also getting broad international support for what we need do simultaneously, which is to fight terror."

And Ha'aretz reports Barak's proposal to ease hardships on Palestinians:

Barak on Monday proposed the construction of a 48-kilometer long tunnel that would connect the northern Gaza Strip with the southern West Bank, thus enabling freedom of movement between the two disjointed Palestinian territories.

"Kahane lives" in Israeli election campaign
The story of the election, however, could be the rise of the far right, especially the Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party led by Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman's frankly anti-Arab views remind many Israelis of Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned in Israel (and listed as a terrorist organization in the United States.) and who was later slain in New York by a Muslim fanatic. Ha'aretz reports on a radio interview given by Haim Yavin, the semiretired TV anchorman who was often called "Israel's Walter Cronkite":

"Kahane may have died but Kahanism lives and there is too much 'death to the Arabs' and hatred for Arabs," Yavin said, adding that whoever forms the next government would be wise to exclude Lieberman.

But Lieberman isn't the only anti-Arab extremist likely to get elected; Knesset candidate Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union party is another, and, he tells Yediot Aharonot, the list goes on:

"I'm not the only one who represents (late Rabbi Meir) Kahane. He's represented by a great many people today, within the Knesset and outside it," Ben-Ari stated. "(Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor) Lieberman masquerades as Kahane to win more mandates, (Likud MK) Limor Livnat also sounds like Kahane, and everybody realizes the need for a solution to the problem of Israeli Arabs—a subject which was once taboo.

Israelis on alert for Hezbollah vengeance
Banner headlines in Israel warn that Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that effectively rules south Lebanon, plans to kill or kidnap Israelis at home or abroad to avenge the assassination of its terror operations commander Imad Mughniyeh. After Mughniyeh's car-bomb killing in Damascus a year ago, Israeli leaders evinced deep satisfaction at Mughniyeh's death but denied responsibility for it. Hezbollah blames Israel nevertheless. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports:

"The one-year anniversary of this event is approaching," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the cabinet. "I am not sure that the specific date is binding, and an attack can occur before or after, but there is no doubt that Hezbollah intends to take action." Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed that "the day won't come when we'll put [aside] the blood vengeance for the martyr Mughniyah."