With more than a half-million Israeli citizens living over the Green Line in occupied Palestinian territory, it was only a matter of time before a frontrunner made a campaign stop there. A handful of Knesset members and candidates live in settlements and for weeks now election posters have plastered major intersections and checkpoints across the West Bank. Then yesterday morning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Judea and Samaria division headquarters with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Beit El, outside of Ramallah, becoming the first party leader to hold a settlement election event.
And there he issued a veiled warning that ISIS threatens to bring down Israel and the Palestinian government.
“The activity of the IDF and the security services is essential to prevent a takeover by radical elements that would certainly attack Israel and threaten our communities and our people, and would also threaten the Palestinian Authority and take control of the Palestinian public,” Netanyahu said, in a statement released by Israel’s election committee.
Three weeks ago Netanyahu released a video on Facebook, a medium all Israeli politicians in the running are feverishly using to post election ads, equating a victory by the center-left bloc, the Zionist Camp, to an invitation for an ISIS conquest of Israel. The video asserts that only Netanyahu has the gall to fight off Islamic extremism. Moreover it suggests that ISIS has a stake in the outcome of the election where it presumes they see a Zionist Camp win as a red carpet rolled out for its fighters. Jabs at the absurdity of the scenario continued into this week when comedian John Oliver even poked at Netanyahu on his show Last Week Tonight.
“I’m pretty sure if ISIL were going to take over Israel they wouldn’t be politely waiting until after the election—‘death to Israel, pending all precincts reporting. Respect the process guys, stand back’,” said Oliver.
In the past when Israeli figureheads crossed the green line it was a kind of flouting of international law that sent a message of solidarity to settlers. Famously Ariel Sharon went to the al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in 2000, which kicked off the second Intifada. He also purchased the first settlements in the Muslim Quarter of the Jerusalem’s Old City. More recently, President Reuven Rivlin (whose position is not up in this election) went to Hebron in February, sparking protests and clashes from Palestinians. And Moshe Feiglin, Likud’s chief of the Jewish Leadership faction kicked off his campaign tour in radical small settlements in December.
Yet Netanyahu’s visit was not a show of contempt directed towards the Palestinians, or a boost to settlers. Indeed the Palestinians and Israel’s conflict with them are not an issue for Netanyahu in the campaign. A Likud pamphlet released on Sunday stated the prime minister’s party has no agenda for rapprochement or a return to negotiations. Rather, Netanyahu’s monitoring trip to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) headquarters in the West Bank was a capstone to his security challenge to opposition candidates. By stopping there, Netanayhu was again making, albeit softer this time, yet another reference that a vote for the center-left block, the Zionist Camp, is a vote for impending doom.
While in Beit El, Netanyahu also looked back positively on his speech to Congress where he lambasted negotiations between Iran and the U.S. on an easing of sanctions in return for scaling down Iran’s nuclear program. “One week after my address to Congress I get the impression that there are more and more voices, especially in the U.S. but also in other places, that support Israel’s position,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu was apparently referring to the letter of 47 GOP senators, who followed up Netanyahu’s controversial speech, by penning an open letter to Iranian leaders in which they too criticized the Iran deal. The Republicans threatened that if such an agreement was struck, they would have it retracted when the next U.S. president enters office. President Obama struck back and said of Republicans “it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran.” Yet for Netanyahu the GOP letter was confirmation of his position against the Iran deal.
Also at Beit El, Netanyahu pressed his view that an agreement would allow Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, despite numerous statement from Secretary of State John Kerry to the contrary. “The agreement being formulated between the major powers and Iran gives a clear path to Iran to achieve a nuclear bomb, nuclear bombs; a better agreement must be sought,” Netanyahu said.
Although Netanyahu’s Beit El excursion was his first to a settlement community, it was his second stop in occupied Palestinian territory since announcing his candidacy. He visited the Western Wall at the beginning of the month before departing to Washington for his Congress speech. The Jewish religious site is located in East Jerusalem.