Netanyahu hurt by Al Aqsa backtrack

The Israeli PM feels the need to shore up his hard-right political base


The anger on the right wing over last week’s climbdown by the Israeli government on installing metal detectors on Temple Mount has led to an increase in hard-right statements from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those close to him.

Likud insiders believe Mr Netanyahu is concerned about losing his base to rivals such as Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

While the prime minister acted according to the recommendations of the Shin Bet security service and the IDF when deciding to remove the metal detectors that he himself had ordered only ten days earlier, he is worried about the growing attacks from right-wing commentators accusing him of showing “weakness” in the face of Palestinian violence and Arab pressure.

Perhaps the most stark example of the right’s move against the PM was the headline last week in Yisrael Hayom, a tabloid which throughout its ten years of existence has been slavishly loyal to Mr Netanyahu. The headline read: “Netanyahu’s display of impotence”.

In the hope of shoring up his base, the prime minister has made a series of controversial statements in recent days, in many cases contradicting his own previous positions. In a visit to the family of three Israelis murdered in Halamish, he said he was in favour of executing the perpetrator. Last year, however, he voted against the death sentence for terrorists.

Sources close to Mr Netanyahu also leaked that he had proposed to the Americans swapping areas in which Israeli-Arabs live for settlements. Four years ago, when Mr Lieberman proposed such an idea at the UN, his office made it clear that was not Israeli policy. And despite frequently citing the freedom of press in Israel, in a statement, Mr Netanyahu called for the Al Jazeera offices in Israel to be closed, accusing the network of inciting violence.

In recent days, Mr Netanyahu has also said he will personally ensure the controversial nation-state law is passed by the Knesset. And following the ruling of the IDF appeals court on Sunday against the Hebron Shooter, Elor Azaria, he called for the former soldier to be pardoned, without even taking the trouble to criticise his actions.

According to Likud sources, the prime minister is not only responding to criticism over his Temple Mount climbdown, but is also worried he may soon be indicted for accepting expensive gifts from millionaires. He intends to remain in office, even if indicted, but will need the continued support of his right-wing coalition to do so.

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