After Reelection Win, Netanyahu Faces Demands From Right-Wing Base
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deep in deal-making with other political leaders. He's working to form what he has said will be a center-right government after elections earlier this month. His Likud party won those elections decisively, in part by convincing voters who may have preferred a more right-wing party to choose him. NPR's Emily Harris went to find out what right-wing voters want from Netanyahu now.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: There was a party in the West Bank Settlement of El Cana just a couple of days after Israel's election. Yoaz Hendel, a former Netanyahu spokesman, grew up there and went. He says most residents tend toward Nafthali Bennett, a politician settlers see as more definitively on their side. But this election, Hendel heard many say they want for Netanyahu in the end.
YOAZ HENDEL: They heard his call. He convinced them, but not because of his character, but because his claims and declarations.
HARRIS: One declaration was that a Palestinian state would not be created on Netanyahu's watch. Right-wing Israeli voters liked that, but building Jewish homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is more immediately important to many who helped Netanyahu win this election.
In this settlement, Kohav Yaakov, a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem, dozens of homes are going up inside the gate. But Miri Ovedia with the settlers' regional council points to a valley with no buildings just off the entrance road.
MIRI OVEDIA: There are plans to build a few hundreds of units in this area over here. And these plans, like many others, are stuck.
HARRIS: Stuck means, in this case, plans have been approved, except at the highest level, the minister of defense and prime minister. Ovedia says homes are needed for growing families.
OVEDIA: If they don't have this opportunity to build a house or to build a bigger home, often it will be a choice to stay or to leave.
HARRIS: Most countries, including the U.S., view settlements as an obstacle to peace because they're built on land Palestinians claim for a future state. During Israel's election campaign, Netanyahu posed in front of construction cranes in a settlement. But a week after the vote, amid public tensions with the White House, several key planning meetings for the settlements Netanyahu visited were delayed. Planning officials blamed Netanyahu's office. Dani Dayan with the settlers' Yesha Council is disappointed.
DANI DAYAN: I understand that the Prime Minister feels a kind of pressure coming from the other side of the ocean, but I think it's imperative that he fulfills the pledges made during the election.
HARRIS: Another settler council leader, Avi Roe, agrees. He's a member of Netanyahu's Likud party and says insiders like him have leverage over Netanyahu. In an extreme case, they could even topple him as party leader.
AVI ROE: (Through interpreter) There are different ways that we can pressure him, although I think our role is to strengthen him, not threaten him - to strengthen him so we get the right decisions, which I'm convinced he believes in.
HARRIS: One Israeli political blogger, Ted Belman, says it's up to the right wing to make sure pressure from President Obama doesn't make Netanyahu back off campaign pledges.
TED BELMAN: We would rather, instead of him bobbing and weaving and bending and doing whatever he can to alleviate the pressure, to say no a little more emphatically. That's the message that our work isn't done.
HARRIS: Belman says he wants to keep pressure on Netanyahu, but he has his eye on another prize, the possibility the U.S. leadership may change parties before Netanyahu's new term is up. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.