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The nation wonders: ‘can anyone beat Netanyahu?’

HOPEFUL: A file picture of Benjamin Netanyahu among the ballot papers

Israeli police want him to be indicted in three separate corruption cases.

He’s embattled from left and right for his attacks on Gaza and his policy in the West Bank. He’s made a point of cozying up to controversial right-wing nationalist leaders, from Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to Hungary’s Viktor Orban — and especially to President Donald Trump.

And if the forthcoming Israeli election was to be held today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would almost definitely win for the fourth time in a row. Probably in a landslide.

Why? In a sentence, it’s because enough Israelis trust him with their security. To his voters, everything else is commentary.

“They think that if he may have received bribes or played with Israel’s telecom market to have personal gain, this has nothing to do with the way he confronts Iran or the way he handles things in Syria,” said Israeli political journalist Tal Schneider, referring to some of the corruption allegations against Netanyahu. “In Israel, you win elections on security issues only,” she added. “It’s easy to speak to people’s fears because in Israel, fears are real. It’s here daily.”

Polls ahead of the April 9 election have Netanyahu’s Likud party holding a wide lead over a growing group of competitors.

Likud is on course to win around 30 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset, putting Netanyahu in the best position to form a ruling coalition. His closest opponents would get half that number.

Netanyahu’s international critics — the United Nations, the European Union and the former Obama administration — have portrayed him as too aggressive in Gaza, too cavalier with the lives of Palestinian civilians and unwilling to make peace with the Palestinian Authority.

That’s not to mention the protests over his policies on African asylum seekers, religious pluralism in Israel or the status of Arab Israelis.

But in Israel, polls show that most Jews think Netanyahu is not aggressive enough in Gaza.

It’s true that two former Israeli generals, both chiefs of staff, have founded new parties this year specifically aiming to oppose Netanyahu. But so far, neither is attacking Netanyahu directly on security issues.

Moshe Ya’alon, one of Netanyahu’s former defence ministers, said his party would represent “the good, values-based, clean-handed land of Israel”. And Benny Gantz, a former general, said he would leave several West Bank settlement blocs in place but that an agreement with the Palestinians would bolster Israel’s security.

Gantz told Israeli TV: “There needs to be a real diplomatic effort, without being suckers and without being irresponsible.”

A chorus of other candidates has also failed to match him at the polls. Yair Lapid, a one-time news anchor and finance minister who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party, hasn’t been able to broaden his appeal.

And the once-robust Labour Party, headed by former telecom executive Avi Gabbay, is mired in the single digits.

If anything, the new parties may help Netanyahu by fragmenting his opponents.

Netanyahu’s main problems are the potential indictments. He has vowed to remain PM even if charged with a crime.

Will that cost him the election? Probably not.


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