If either of Netanyahu’s right-wing political rivals for the Prime Minister’s job had been leading Israel over this last year or so, what would be the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank today?
A future potential Israeli leader is the extreme right-wing Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party which is devoted to creating a Greater Israel that includes all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and excludes any possibility of there ever being a Palestinian state. Bennett is currently Minister of the Economy in Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Another contender is the even more extreme right-winger Avigdor Liebermann, the controversial leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party and currently Foreign Minister in the Israeli government. He is also a past Deputy Prime Minister.
Had either of these two rivals of Netanyahu been Prime Minister of Israel during the past year or so we would be looking at a vastly different Middle East today.
During the recent conflict Liebermann said that Israel will eventually need to reoccupy the Gaza Strip and ‘overthrow’ Hamas saying that “the occupation of Gaza and the overthrow of Hamas is a process that would take more than four months”. Naftali, a little less brash than Liebermann, nonetheless is adamant about obtaining a positive Israeli ‘victory’ over Hamas saying that the Israelis should continue until the Gaza Strip is ‘demilitarised’, a euphemism for occupation which is the only way Israel can ever hope to permanently keep Hamas out of the Gaza Strip.
Both Liebermann and Bennett are strong Greater Israel Zionists and support increasing settlements in the West Bank as well as building new ones in the Gaza Strip with a view to eventually annexing both territories to Israel.
The difference between the Liebermann-Naftali attitude and Netanyahu’s is that neither Liebermann nor Naftali make any secret about what they envisage for the future of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Netanyahu on the other hand, who actually wants the same thing, is far more politically pragmatic about these issues given that, as prime minister, he needs to tread a fine line between the reality of needing US support militarily and politically and knowing that the US will not support an invasion and full occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In other words, Liebermann and Naftali are both of the ‘We don’t care what the world thinks’ faction of Israel’s extreme right-wing as opposed to Netanyahu who very much cares what the rest of the world thinks of his actions because he needs to rely on their support for all that he does.