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Israel Tilts Away from the Right After Elections, Netanyahu's Power Wanes

Netanyahu has confirmed his legacy as a weak-willed leader, a venal politician and a poor strategist.

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Barack Obama: No one will ever know how much of an effect  Obama’s words to Jeffrey Goldberg, published mere days before the election, might have had on Netanyahu’s losses in this election. But count me among those who think it mattered. Yes, this was Israel’s most domestically focused election ever. And it’s also true that few Likud-Beiteinu voters like Obama. But Israelis are not fools; they know Israel needs to improve its relationship with both the White House and European leaders. Unlike most Americans, Israelis across the political spectrum know that Bibi actively interfered with the US election and, what’s worse, did so by backing the wrong horse. That has since faded from Israeli headlines, and Goldberg’s article didn’t make big news in Israel. But it did make news, and many Israelis follow the global and US media on Israel very closely. In any case, a second-term Obama will now be dealing with a chastened Netanyahu. At the very least, this was a pleasant night for Obama, and it could help support and embolden Obama if he decides to take Bibi on again.

Opposition to an Iran attack: This was actually taking shape in the election campaign. Iran was not a prominent issue at all. Israel still wants the US to take care of Iran, but the opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike among the military and intelligence brass remains just as strong as ever. A move toward the political center and, more importantly, an election that reflects looking within the country rather than outside it when identifying Israel’s biggest challenges blunts even farther the threat of Israeli action, which means less pressure on the US to act militarily. With Iranian elections looming in a few months, and the accompanying end of the Ahmadinejad era, an attack has almost certainly been pushed back, quite possibly to the point where an agreement can be reached to entirely avert one. Netanyahu’s need to use glamorous government positions like the Defense Ministry to entice coalition partners likely means Ehud Barak’s minimal chances of staying in his present job have been reduced to zero. An attack on Iran is considerably less likely today than it was before.

The Losers

The Palestinians: The occupation was, at best, a minor question in Israel’s 2013 election. There were many pro forma statements from Labor’s Shelly Yachimovitch, HaTnuah’s Tzipi Livni and Lapid about supporting the two-state solution, usually with something like the Clinton Parameters outline or some such. But it was always an afterthought. Livni and Yachimovitch occasionally attacked Netanyahu for letting Israel’s global image suffer due to his intransigence on the Palestinian issue, while Lapid’s Yesh Atid platform had support for two states as its final plank. What seems to be looming is a Netanyahu who might moderate some of his public statements on the subject, but will head a government that will stick to the same policies of obstructionism that it has held to these past four years, but with a less confrontational tone when it comes to the US and Europe. That’s not a recipe for progress, but rather for maintaining the status quo while blunting the only pressure that could conceivably bring about change. If Naftali Bennett is in a prominent role in the government that might have some effect on the Palestinians (Interior Minister, perhaps) it just might mean that this new government is the same as the old one. In any case, Netanyahu remains in office, leading a party that is explicitly opposed to a two-state solution and has moved to the right. A coalition partner can push the weak-willed Bibi, but Lapid has shown little interest in this issue at all, and to the extent he has, he doesn’t sound much different from Netanyahu. Yachimovitch has stayed away from the entire Palestinian issue and Livni, who engaged it more than any other “centrist” candidate, had turned down a Palestinian offer that included most of East Jerusalem, full capitulation on the right of return and Israel keeping all three of the major settlement blocs. The Palestinians are, as usual, the biggest losers in this election, but that was always a sure thing from the very beginning.

 
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