Earlier this month, the recently retired head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, Yuval Diskin, criticized Netanyahu for failing to aggressively press ahead with peace efforts during a time of calm.
“If I cause the Israeli voter to think twice before choosing parties and leaders that are not worthy because they are actually not leading us where we should be going, I’ve done my part,” Diskin said.
Such criticism has fueled speculation that Netanyahu will explore the possibility of bringing centrist partners into his coalition. The likely candidates would be Livni’s new party The Movement and There is a Future, another newcomer led by former TV talk-show host Yair Lapid.
Both candidates have promised to drive a hard bargain. Appearing on TV Thursday night, Livni said she would join Netanyahu only if there are serious peace efforts and she is given a key role.
“I will not sit in a government that will continue the stalemate,” she said.
Lapid has indicated more flexibility, focusing his campaign primarily on the plight of Israel’s struggling middle class. But he told The Associated Press this week that he would not be a “fig leaf” for an extremist government.
The winner of Tuesday’s election will have six weeks to put together his coalition. Netanyahu has sent mixed signals in interviews, saying that he wants a broad government to ensure stability but also saying that partners will have to accept his policies. The conventional wisdom is that the coalition will be even more hard-line than the outgoing coalition.
The prospect of another Netanyahu term has fueled a sense of despair among Palestinians, who fear that his ambitious plans for settlement construction over the next four years could kill their dreams of independence. Their hope is that Obama, emboldened by his own re-election, will put heavy pressure on Netanyahu to return to negotiations.
“The first strong impression is that peace is not on the agenda of the Israeli parties, and it’s clear that Netanyahu is winning,” said Mohammed Ishtayeh, an aide to President Mahmoud Abbas.
Associated Press Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.