Deadly Palestinian attack puts security in focus before Israel polls

Published March 19, 2019, 12:46 AM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Agence France-Presse

Israeli forces on Monday hunted a Palestinian who they said killed two people in the occupied West Bank, an attack that put security back at the forefront of the country’s electoral campaign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose popularity rests largely on his reputation as a security hardliner, visited the site of the attack and pledged tough action, including the demolition of the assailant’s home.

But Netanyahu and his allies also came under fire from both his centrist opponents in the April 9 elections as well as those on the far-right, though for different reasons.

The centrist Blue and White alliance criticized Netanyahu’s camp for what it said was the politicization of Sunday’s attack, which killed a 19-year-old soldier and a rabbi.

Far-right politicians meanwhile blamed Netanyahu’s government for what they see as being too weak toward the Palestinians.

The campaign rhetoric was another sign of how much security has come to dominate Israeli politics, which has moved firmly to the right in recent years.

Opinion polls show Netanyahu in a tight race with the Blue and White, which includes three former military chiefs of staff, including the centrist alliance’s leader, Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu is running for re-election while under threat of indictment on corruption charges and has sought to further bolster his security credentials as part of his strategy.

“These terrorists will not uproot us from here,” Netanyahu said while visiting the site of the attack near the Ariel settlement in the West Bank on Monday.

“The complete opposite will happen. Our response is simple: The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and spread,” he added, referring to a verse in the Bible’s Book of Exodus.

He noted that the construction of 840 more homes was due to begin on Tuesday in Ariel, which already has a population of nearly 20,000.

It was yet another nod by Netanyahu ahead of the polls to Israel’s settler movement, which holds important influence in the country’s right-wing politics.

He also pledged security forces would track down the attacker in addition to his vow the assailant’s home would be demolished, a policy regularly carried out by Israel.

Political propaganda

Israeli security forces say Sunday’s incident saw a 19-year-old Palestinian attack a soldier with a knife at a junction near Ariel and steal his weapon.

He later fired on three vehicles — hitting a 47-year-old rabbi, who later died — before taking one of the cars to another nearby junction.

The rabbi, a resident of the Eli settlement, fired toward the attacker during the incident, according to his family.

At the second junction, the Palestinian opened fire and wounded another soldier, who was in serious condition, the army said.

The Palestinian, identified by Israeli authorities as Omar Amin Abu Laila from the West Bank town of Az-Zawiya, then fled.

Israel’s army said its troops were searching for him and his home had been surveyed “to examine the possibility of its demolition.”

Palestinian attacks against Israeli soldiers and settlers occur sporadically in the West Bank, under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Six-Day War, but Sunday’s came amid the final weeks of the electoral campaign.

Shortly after the attack, Culture Minister Miri Regev, sticking with Netanyahu’s campaign strategy, sought to label the Blue and White leftists whose government’s policies would lead to more such incidents.

Regev, a strong supporter of the premier, alleged the alliance’s leaders would ally with Arab politicians to try to keep Netanyahu from forming a coalition after the elections.

Gantz’s alliance responded that “never in the history of the country has an Israeli minister taken advantage of the death of the victims of attacks for political propaganda even before the funeral of the dead.”

Since Gantz joined with former finance minister Yair Lapid to form Blue and White on February 21, polls have shown the alliance would win the most seats.

But the centrists have more recently slid in polls, and a new survey out Sunday showed Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud winning the most seats for the first time since February 21.

According to the poll, Likud would win 31 compared with Blue and White’s 30.

The election is expected to be close and much may depend on post-poll negotiations to form a coalition.