Right-wing millionaire is Israel campaign's surprise star

Wed Jan 9, 2013 9:42am EST
 

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A right-wing millionaire who says a Palestinian state would be suicide for Israel has emerged as the surprise success story of the country's election campaign.

So much so that Naftali Bennett, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is said to have fallen out with his old boss, is now expected to face the Israeli leader across the cabinet table after the January 22 election.

Opinion polls show Bennett's far-right, and revamped, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) seems to appeal to many voters, predicting the party will finish third in the parliamentary election that Netanyahu is widely forecast to win.

Commentators have suggested personal relations between the two party leaders may be testy, noting that Bennett's time in Netanyahu's office ended on a sour note, though publicly both men have remained tight-lipped on the matter.

Netanyahu has been jarred by Bennett's chipping away at his Likud party's support. This week he gave radio interviews, which he rarely does, and called on his traditional supporters not to be swayed by smaller parties and to vote for him.

Dismissing as a "dead end" efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bennett wants to annex more than half of the occupied West Bank and give autonomy to Palestinians.

"Forming a Palestinian state within the Land of Israel would spell eternal strife and war and bloodshed," Bennett said in American-accented English, reminiscent of that of his former boss, Netanyahu, in an interview with Reuters.

"How would you feel if the entire world is in consensus that you need to commit suicide. Would you go ahead and commit suicide if you're sure that it is wrong?" said Bennett, the Israeli-born son of parents from San Francisco.   Continued...

 
Naftali Bennett, head of the Beit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, campaigns at a bar in the southern city of Ashdod December 27, 2012. A Palestinian state would be suicide for Israel, says Bennett, a high-tech millionaire who heads a far-right party whose popularity has been the surprise of the country's election campaign. Picture taken December 27, 2012. REUTERS/Amir Cohen