Text size

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) opened his election campaign yesterday with a speech to the Knesset plenum, which he ended with a list of public promises.

The most important one was his statement that Iran is an existential threat to Israel and "my policy as prime minister will be clear, Iran will not arm itself with nuclear weapons."

Unlike other Israeli leaders, who have passed the responsibility to preventing a nuclear Iran to the international community, Netanyahu promised to act. It is likely he would support an Israeli military operation against Iran, or at least attempt to make the Americans and Europeans think he would.

Netanyahu also promised not to negotiate Jerusalem or the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. He said that in any future agreement "the Jordan Valley, Judean Desert and Golan Heights would continue to serve as the eastern security zone of Israel." Anyone looking at his words for a hint of compromise with Syria should notice that Netanyahu did not promise the Golan would remain under Israeli control and all the settlements would remain in place. He offered the Palestinians an "economic peace," instead of a withdrawal from the territories or a permanent agreement. He proposes for the Palestinians first to work in industrial parks along the seam line, and then "we will see if we progress with an agreement." As far as Netanyahu is concerned, any offer from Olmert to the Palestinians is not a commitment, and will be discarded when his term ends.

On the economic side, Netanyahu stuck to the policy he backed when he was finance minister. He wants to continue to do away with the old Israeli institutions, such as the Israel Lands Administration and planning commissions; with socialism and bureaucracy - and high taxes.

Netanyahu believes the most important part of leadership is to demonstrate vision and a way, and then implement them, even if it means going against the flow. This is how he wants to appear: a steadfast ideologue, willing to fight for his beliefs. His view is diametrically opposed to that of Olmert, who says the "role of the prime minister is to manage the country."

It is also clear that if Netanyahu wins the election and takes power, he will have to adapt his ideological views to the constraints of reality, as he has done in the past. But for now Bibi is not in power, but campaigning. He is appealing to the right, to the voters who left the Likud in 2006 for Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, for Shas and for the National Union-National Religious Party. His promises are meant to convince them that the rehabilitated Likud will incorporate right-wing ideology in its rule.

Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak also presented a new agenda yesterday. In a meeting with editors from the media, Barak praised the Arab League peace initiative as a framework for the peace process. Barak believes that widening the process will make it easier for the Syrians and Palestinians to make concessions, without each of them accusing the other of giving in to Israel. It will also be easier for the Israeli public to accept a withdrawal if it includes an overall peace with the Arab world. Barak also found a new political ally yesterday, President Shimon Peres, who was once his bitter enemy. Yesterday Peres gave a political speech in the Knesset, a rare occurrence, in which he spoke of expanding the Arab League peace initiative and a regional peace.

Bark aides said the two had coordinated their positions and have been formulating the plan for the last five months. Barak's goal is clear: to reposition himself, as Kadima has stolen the center-left position and the leadership of the peace camp in Israel, and the polls predict Labor's end.