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Can Obama Get the Government He Wants in Israel?

Can Obama Get the Government He Wants in Israel?

Be careful what you wish for.

Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the process of dissolving his government coalition to bring about new elections in March of next year. One needn’t be a particularly close observer of politics to know that President Barack Obama doesn’t much like Netanyahu. Will Obama try to interfere with the Israeli election?

Akiva Eldar, a left-wing columnist for Ha’aretz, argues in Al-Monitor that, yes, Obama should make it clear that he prefers any candidate to the incumbent.

Some of President Barack Obama’s advisers came to the conclusion that the time had come to remind the Israelis who is the boss. They encouraged the president to set a detailed outline for a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. They recommend that the process involve a fixed timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines and the Arab Peace Initiative. According to the plan, a diet of “carrots” would be provided to the party that adopts the outline, and “sticks” would be the fate of the recalcitrant side. When the Israeli voter goes to the polling booth, he or she would know whether they vote for the carrot or the stick. The Palestinian leadership and public will also clearly envisage the end of the occupation, with the advantages that follow the end of it, vis-a-vis perpetuation of the conflict and the drawbacks involved. …

Obama, like Hillary Clinton, believes that the two-state solution is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and to realize the US interest of ending the conflict. Obama, unlike Clinton, is not worried that a potential confrontation with Israel’s right-wing government will adversely affect American voters. He can allow himself to incentivize Israeli voters to support parties that offer an alternative to the current government.

Eldar’s assessment ignores that it was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who refused to budge during the negotiations earlier this year. He ignores that Abbas agreed to a unity government with Hamas. It ignores that Arafat in 2000 and Abbas in 2008 refused peace deals when offered. But to a certain segment of the Israeli chattering class the reason that there’s no peace is because of the right-wingers currently in charge of Israel’s government.

A more sensible reading of Israel’s political landscape came from Jonathan Schanzer, director of research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Schanzer writing in The New York Times argued:

The top priority is — and will be for the foreseeable future — preventing Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear weapon’s power. To achieve this, Israel will also need to continue to sound the alarm about the potential for an ill-advised deal between Iran and the so-called P5-plus-1 countries (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany). This has been a source of tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. …

Nor is it likely that the elections will change the prospects for Palestinian-Israeli peace. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas appears to have decided to pursue the case for Palestinian statehood in international forums rather than through negotiations with Israel. Abbas’ support for the recent outbreak of violence in Jerusalem has also prompted much of the Israeli political spectrum to sour on further talks with him.

Schanzer correctly observes that Iran will be an “issue of contention for the next two years no matter who is prime minister.” More generally he concludes that “it will soon become clear that Israel’s fight for survival looks roughly the same under any leadership. It’s a tough neighborhood.”

Aaron David Miller, who, I suspect, has played a role in meddling in past Israeli elections takes a slightly different tack to Schanzer, but lays out three conditions that Obama needs to meet to make interference productive.

Obama’s relationship with Bibi is perhaps the most dysfunctional of any president-prime minister pair in the history of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Doubtless John Kerry, too, would like to see another Israeli leader with whom he could dance a real peace process.

Yet constraints against U.S. meddling abound. First, there’s the Republican-controlled Congress, which will be watching hawk-like for any such funny business. Second, there’s the absence of a clear and credible alternative to Bibi with whom the administration is close; and then there’s the matter of the lack of a big issue for such lobbying. The peace process is in a coma; and ISIS, Hamas, Assad, Hezbollah, and the Iranian mullahs make Israel look like the good guys. Finally, there’s Obama himself. He’s not Clinton. Does he really care? Do most Israelis trust him? Could he get away with a campaign that makes clear Bibi isn’t the right guy and candidate, but X is? I am betting on “no” to all three questions. Don’t even think about it, Mr. President.

According to a recent poll only 37% of Israelis believe that Obama is positive towards Israel. Perhaps more tellingly 65% of Israeli believe that America’s position in the Middle East has weakened since Obama came to power. In general it’s not a good idea for an Israeli leader to be viewed as uncooperative with the United States. But with Obama, I don’t think that’s a risk for Netanyahu. And like Miller, Israelis perception of Obama make it risky for him to try and meddle openly in the upcoming Israeli elections; it could well backfire.

Still it’s distinctly possible that even if Netanyahu is defeated relations between Israel and the United States won’t improve. Obama could listen to Eldar  and meddle in the Israeli elections, but whatever the results, Obama isn’t likely to be any friendlier to Israel after the election.

[Photo: Pete Souza / WikiCommons ]


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I’ll quibble that ISIS etc. don’t make Israel just “look like” the good guys. I’ve always maintained Bibi is not your cuddly sort, but he’s blessed with enemies far worse than he, in the sense that is a political blessing.

    David Gerstman in reply to JBourque. | December 9, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    JBourque – I didn’t like Miller’s wording either.

    There have been tones of polls published in Israel. They all give the same result:

    1. Nobody likes Netanyahu.
    2. Nobody knows of anyone better.

    One should point out that the right isn’t two happy with him, with his continual caving to Obama and the EU.

I wonder if we could work out a trade with Israel?

Or, hell, Canada…!!! We could throw in Detroit.

PoliticiansRscum | December 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Obama interfering with another countries elections? Who would this Bozo respond if other world leaders were pushing for the Republican?

PoliticiansRscum | December 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm

OOPS Country’s elections.

For any other administration, I would have laughed at the foreigner’s naive notion that we’d bother. For this one, I say “Oh, please, do it! I am sure interference by this administration in a foreign country will be just as effective as Obama’s support of the Democrat in the recent election in Louisiana.

Well let’s see… the IRS has no jurisdiction over them. So I suppose he’d set about having the NSA gather dirt on them, then he’d sic his sycophant press dogs on them, and finally he would rabble-rouse some racial animosity if at all possible. That’s the Obama play book in a nutshell right there.

    weenchit in reply to Paul. | December 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    You’re right about Obama’s tactics except for the racial stuff – they’re taking orders from the “Palestinians” these days.

JackRussellTerrierist | December 9, 2014 at 2:47 pm

If Bibi loses to a moderate or lefty, Israel is toast unless they can somehow survive until we get a “Peace through strength” type in the WH.

obola will stick his nose and operatives into this. I would even say he’s already started and we’ll start seeing it after the first of the new year.

The downfall of Israel is far too juicy a target for obola to resist. He despises Bibi, so the opportunity to oust him and get a wimp in instead is like dangling a raw ribeye in front of a jackal. Sinking Bibi AND Israel in one fell swoop is getting two birds for one stone – such a big win for him and his Islamic terrorist brethren.

The real question is whether Bibi has a plan and an arsenal of maneuvers to evade the onslaught about to befall him.

Under obola, the U.S. has become a FINO to Israel – Friend In Name Only.

Obama got the government he wanted in Libya, in Iraq, in Ukraine, in ISIS, and in the US… I am not sure even the most Leftist Israelis should realistically want what Obama can give.

In the 90s, the Clinton administration had people in Israel working to ensure Netanyahu lost the election.

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to davod. | December 9, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Even without the clue of open hostility from obola, Bibi probably still chafes at what Bubba did and knows that obola will be much worse.

Akiva Eldar (who failed the lynch test with the Ramallah October 2000 incident) and is so left wing he writes for al-Monitor is someone who you should never pay attention to.