The man Israelis call “Bibi” is still on track to win next week’s general election. But he is under growing pressure from rivals on the left and right.
Opinion polls show Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party ahead by just two or three seats in the race for the Knesset. Hot on its heels is Kadima, led by Israel’s centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. But she may not have much cause to celebrate. Many analysts believe that even if she does pip Netanyahu, she will still have extreme difficulty building a majority. Livni’s failure to do so in the outgoing parlaiment triggered the early election. A far-right party headed by a former Netanyahu aide is also siphoning votes from Likud, according to the polls. Yisrael Beiteinu (Our Home is Israel) channels anti-Arab anger. Its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, has widened his appeal beyond fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union to other Israelis keen to see a hard line taken against the Palestinians. The signs are that Lieberman could well push Ehud Barak’s Labour, the party of Israel’s founders, into fourth place – a grim prospect for the Defence Minister and the Israeli left as a whole. Whatever the outcome of the election, Israel’s political system means that weeks of coalition bargaining probably lie ahead.