There has been a good deal of discussion about the U.S. election’s impact on U.S.-Israel relations. Ignored, however, by the U.S. press are the recent developments in Israeli politics that hold out the possibility that despite the Obama administration’s best efforts, Benjamin Netanyahu may be reelected before the U.S. elections and be in an even more secure position to deal with both the Americans and the Palestinians.
In December, Netanyahu outmaneuvered his opponents in the Likud party, as Haaretz reported: “For the second time in four years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled the rug under fellow contenders for the leadership of the Likud party, namely, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. That was accomplished by scheduling the party primaries earlier than anticipated, January 31, 2012, in less than two months, in a move characterized by many as a show of underhanded opportunism.” Well, the left-leaning, anti-Bibi Haaretz didn’t like it one bit because that put Tzipi Livni in a bind.
Recall that Livni twice rejected attempts to form a unity government with Netanyahu. Now that Netanyahu has all but secured Likud’s nomination, the pressure is on her to hold her own party elections. Intra-Kadima politics have also forced Livni to rush early elections. That’s problematic for her as this report explains:
Livni has been under pressure by her party members, especially MK Shaul Mofaz, to move the primaries to an earlier date. Mofaz has also announced his intention to run against Livni. According to Kadima regulations, only the chairperson can decide when the primaries will be held.
Just several weeks ago Livni rejected the idea of early primaries, accusing Mofaz of “letting personal struggles hurt Kadima and come at the expense of its struggles on the national level.”
Some Israeli observers put her odds at no better than 50-50 in getting Kadima’s nod. Then, whoever leads Kadima will head a splintered party:
[S]ome speculated [Livni’s decision on a primary] could be motivated by journalist Yair Lapid’s announcement on Sunday that he would be entering politics.
Polls released on Monday, the day after Lapid’s announcement, showed that a new party formed by him would mostly take away votes from Kadima. If elections were held today, according to a poll carried out for Channel 10, Kadima would lose more than half of its current 28 seats and end up with only 12 Knesset Members.
So if Netanyahu decides to hold early elections this year, say in the fall, he will face splintered opposition and possibly a Kadima party run by Lapid, who is widely believed to be amenable to a coalition government with Likud. If Netanyahu doesn’t like dealing with Kadima, he could go to Labor and Lapid to form a government without the religious Shas party. Or he could deal with Shas, Lapid and Kadima, leaving out Labor. In any event he’d be in the driver’s seat. (A secular, nationalist government would give anti-Israel leftists fits given one of their favorite gambits is to carp at Bibi’s ultra-Orthodox partners.)
In 2013, we could see either a reelected and more domestically secure Netanyahu facing off against Obama or a rejuvenated Netanyahu finding a new, less hostile U.S. president. The notion that Netanyahu could survive Obama’s presidency, one that set out to topple his government, would be one for the history books.
All of this is a reminder that the Obama administration’s game plan — pressure Israel and topple Netanyahu, extract concessions from Israel and adopt the Palestinian Authorities’ positions as its own — have failed miserably on every level. If anything, Obama’s aggressive stance against Israel has weakened him domestically (causing him grief with usually reliable Jewish liberals) and strengthened Netanyahu’s hand at home.
We’ll see how both the U.S. and Israeli elections go, but I’d suggest the contests are a better guide to the future of the Middle East than the useless bilateral talks quietly going on in Jordan. (Mahmoud Abbas, as always, is threatening to leave and is unable to bargain for any sort of deal.) If history is any guide, progress is made in the “peace process” when the Israeli prime minister operates from a position of strength and has the full support of the U.S. president. We might get there, albeit not until 2013.