Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told tens of thousands of right-wing voters Sunday that if reelected Tuesday he would make no territorial concessions to the Palestinians or divide the capital Jerusalem.
Throngs of religious and right-wing Israelis converged on Tel Aviv Sunday night to show support for Netanyahu whose Likud party has in all polls over the past week trailed its chief left-wing rival, the Zionist Union, for the party likely to win the largest number of seats in the Knesset.
Netanyahu called the elections “fateful.”
“If we don’t close the gap, there is a danger that a left-wing government will come into power, despite the fact that most of the public wants me as prime minister,” Netanyahu said.
The incumbent challenged his Zionist Union rivals who accuse him of having few accomplishments as prime minister.
“From their viewpoint, if you did not cede land, you did nothing,” he told the crowd. “We did not withdraw, and we will not withdraw, but we have done a great deal.”
Netanyahu repeated his claim that “a massive fortune” of foreign money has been funneled to non-profit groups aiming to unseat him as prime minister.
“In these elections, something is happening that was hidden at first, and now, I am sure you are all aware of,” he said.
He pointed specifically to V15, or Victory 15, an organization dedicated to electing anyone but Netanyahu that is being advised by former Obama campaign strategist Jeremy Bird. Its partner organization OneVoice has received State Department grants in the past.
Fox News reported Saturday that a Senate investigatory committee had launched a bipartisan investigation into OneVoice’s financial support for the anti-Netanyahu campaign after the U.S.-based group received $350,000 in State Department funding.
“They have V15 [while] we have the nation,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported Saturday that V15 representatives had visited 100,000 households in neighborhoods most likely to vote left in a massive get-out-the-vote effort. There are 5.88 million eligible voters in Israel.
Netanyahu closed his remarks with a push to his supporters to work together and thus achieve victory. He offered a quote from Isaiah 41:6, “Everyone helps his neighbor and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’”
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog made an appeal to religious voters earlier Sunday, making a visit to pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
The prime minister’s declaration opposing territorial concessions would likely be met with displeasure by the Obama administration, which has repeatedly pushed for Israel to cede land to the Palestinians in exchange for a negotiated peace deal.
Israelis – including some from the left of the political spectrum – have maintained that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not have the clout in the Palestinian public to ensure the implementation of a peace deal, particularly since the terrorist group Hamas rules Gaza.
Recent polls have shown Netanyahu’s Likud party some four Knesset seats behind the Zionist Union, which includes the Labor party.
Despite the gap in the left-wing party’s favor, polls also showed that the right-wing bloc overall was likely to secure a larger number of the 120 seats in the Knesset, and thus would be in a better position to form a coalition government with Netanyahu as prime minister.
Under Israeli legislative elections, voters cast ballots only for Knesset, not directly for prime minister. The leader of the largest bloc of parties then is tasked with forming a coalition government.
There has also been talk of a potential “unity government” bringing together Netanyahu’s Likud and the Zionist Union. In that case, Netanyahu and Herzog, the left-wing bloc leader, would take turns as prime minister in a rotation.
Netanyahu spoke behind a bulletproof barrier Sunday night. The rally was held in the same square where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 after speaking at a peace rally.
Reporters on the scene said tens of thousands participated, though police did not give an exact count of attendees. A rally organized by the left-wing parties last week was estimated to have included 30,000 participants.