Doubts about Netanyahu are growing

Rand for a hundred days the sixth government led by Benjamin Netanyahu has been in office – and in polls it is experiencing a crash. More and more Israelis think the government doesn’t have the security situation under control; in a poll conducted by Kanal 13 over the weekend, sixty percent of respondents said so. What is unusual and worrying for Netanyahu, however, is that his personal approval ratings are also suffering. More than two-thirds of those surveyed rated his performance as “poor”. In a direct comparison, Netanyahu lost out to opposition politicians Jair Lapid and Benny Gantz. The upswing of former Secretary of Defense Gantz in particular is striking. If elected now, his “National Unity Party” would be the strongest force, according to the poll. An indication that many want peace and a conservative middle course.

Christian Meier

Political correspondent for the Middle East and Northeast Africa.

Polls are snapshots. These days, many Israelis are concerned about the country’s deterrence capability. It is not uncommon for militant groups to fire rockets in the Gaza Strip; the fact that Israel is being shot at from Lebanon or, like on Saturday, from Syria, is. The army responded by shelling the six missiles fired towards the Golan Heights. A Syrian-Palestinian group called the “Al-Quds Brigade” claimed responsibility for the attack. She described the rocket fire as a response to Israel’s “aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem.

The situation there remains tense. But for the time being there were no more escalations like last week. The police allowed Palestinians to stay overnight in the mosque over the weekend. Even as they barricaded themselves there, Jewish visitors were brought onto the plateau by a police force during the day. According to official figures, as of Monday morning, more than 2,200 Jews had visited the site of the former Jewish temple, almost 60 percent more than during the Passover period last year.

Lapid calls Ben-Gvir “Tiktok Clown”

It was still unclear on Monday whether the site would be closed to non-Muslims as usual during the last ten days of Ramadan. That would be from Wednesday – the last day of Passover. According to media reports, Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who as a religious Zionist himself has repeatedly visited the Al-Aqsa plateau, argued against a closure on Wednesday. However, in the eyes of many Muslims, deviating from custom would be a provocation.

Jair Lapid called on Netanyahu on Sunday evening to strip Ben-Gvir of all powers over the al-Aqsa plateau. “The Temple Mount during Ramadan is the most explosive place in the world,” said Lapid. “It cannot be managed by a Tiktok clown who has lost the confidence of the police and the troops on the ground.” The opposition leader had previously received a security briefing from Netanyahu. He said afterwards that he “came into the meeting worried and left even more worried”. Netanyahu’s Likud party retorted, while Israel is fighting on three fronts, Lapid seeks to exploit the situation politically.

But there is also unrest in the Likud. The judiciary reform, championed by some in the party and by right-wing coalition partners, has deepened political divisions in the country and cost support. Netanyahu’s sacking of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after his criticism of the reform was widely viewed as a mistake; for this reason the announcement was never formally carried out. On Monday evening, the prime minister announced in a press conference that Gallant would be allowed to remain in office. Some also got the impression that Netanyahu did not have the reins in his hands. In view of the deterioration in the security situation, they see themselves as confirmed.

The partners in the coalition are also putting pressure on the prime minister. Some call for a more aggressive approach, such as Ben-Gvir. He and his ideological partner, Treasury Secretary Bezalel Smotrich, had pledged to their constituents that they would crack down on Palestinian terrorism. Every attack now puts them under pressure. A Palestinian-Israeli rammed a car into eight people in Tel Aviv on Friday evening. A 35-year-old Italian tourist was killed. There had previously been a shooting attack in the Jordan Valley. Two sisters aged 20 and 15 died instantly; her 48-year-old mother died of her injuries three days later. The perpetrators had not been caught by Monday.

Criticism arose when an army battalion was diverted from searching for the perpetrators to accompany thousands of settlers on a march in the northern West Bank. Several ministers, including Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, and MPs joined the trek to an illegally built “outpost” that was vacated in 2021 and called for its resettlement. Palestinian demonstrators were shot at with tear gas by security forces. Ben-Gvir said they were marching “into the future”. Smotrich promised that in addition to the approximately 500,000 settlers in the West Bank, “another half a million Jews would be brought in.”

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