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Elections in Israel and America – January 10, 2012

Voting booth with an American flag and the word VOTE on itIsraeli politics are known for their volatility and unexpectedness. There have only been 6 Israeli governments which served their full term, the last one ending in 1988. The Knesset (Israeli Parliament) generally finds a reason to disband the government before the end of its term and call for full parliamentary elections. Usually, there is ongoing turmoil and political maneuvering, within weeks of a prime minister taking office until his term is ended by the Knesset. This time, however, the political climate in Israel is totally different. The years of horrific Arab terrorism, followed by the traumatic disengagement from Gaza, and the resulting terrorism from Gaza to Southern Israel, convinced most Israelis that the Arabs are really not interested in peace. The issues that wreaked havoc within a society that loves to debate and argue, are no longer hot issues. For example, last week, Israelis delegates met with Palestinian delegates in Jordan, as part of a Jordanian and Quartet initiative to jump-start the peace process. The fact of the meeting was dutifully reported on the news but the response was a yawn. Most Israelis do not believe these meetings will change the status quo and Israeli leaders do not see anything in the Palestinian attitudes or actions that point to a readiness on their part to have real peace with Israel. It is truly possible that this will be the first Israeli government in a long time to serve a complete term. Or at least, that is what many have been saying.

A picture of Binyamin Netanahu

PM Binyamin Netanyahu

A few weeks ago, Netanyahu called for primaries within the Likud party, which will be held in a few weeks. These primaries are for the election of the head of the Likud Party and the party is expected to confirm Netanyahu as the head and as their candidate for prime minister at the next general election. But with no move for new elections on the table, most commentators wondered why Netanyahu was rushing to schedule primaries now. Why not wait until elections are on the horizon? This led to speculation in many circles that, indeed, Netanyahu is expecting elections this summer. On its face, this doesn’t seem to make sense. The opposition does not seem in any hurry to try and topple the government. So if the government is not threatened, why prepare for elections? I read a very interesting analysis of this exact question the other day that I would like to share with you. It is no secret that the US is a very important ally of Israel. Unfortunately, however, the US president has also used his tremendous power to force Israel to make concessions or take action that have not been in Israel’s interest. For example, last year, the Government of Israel froze all building in Judea and Samaria only to please the US president and to prevent the accusation that Israel is not interested in peace. At the end of the 10-month freeze, we were no closer to peace, the Palestinians were still unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish State or to even begin negotiations. But the damage had been done – Israel had capitulated on this issue and, in so doing, revealed its fundamental weakness.

President Obama

President Barack Obama

Since then, President Obama has made it clear that he has an intense dislike for Netanyahu. He was even caught making a nasty remark of this sort to French president Sarkozy a few months ago. If Obama is re-elected president in November, he will be a second-term president with no need to oblige a pro-Israel electorate. It is expected that he will find ways to damage Netanyahu’s reputation in such a way that it might harm his domestic following. The theory is that Netanyahu is toying with the idea of early elections if it looks as if Obama will indeed be re-elected, so that Israeli elections will take place before the US elections and Obama will have that much less ability to harm Netanyahu politically. Beyond the fact that this is an interesting analysis, it does point out the extent to which the US may be manipulating Israeli friendship and dependence on US military aid to force issues against the will of the Israeli people. And there is precedent for such US over-involvement. When Clinton was president he interfered in Israeli politics to try and turn the tide against Netanyahu. While friends are free to disagree, there is a point at which involvement becomes overreaching. Last week, I had a visit from a US political officer with the US consulate in Jerusalem. She was interested in learning more about the Israeli government’s agreement with the residents of Ramat Gilead, an outpost neighborhood of Karnei Shomron, to enable development of that neighborhood on undisputed land. While this agreement entailed compromise on both sides, it clearly points the way for further building and development in Judea and Samaria. This runs counter to US policy and, therefore, the US wants to know more. I was friendly and helpful, introduced her to the mayor and took her up to Ramat Gilead so she could gain a better understanding of the issues. She was a nice woman, but she is responsible to her boss, the Secretary of State. I did take advantage of my time with her to communicate my own personal frustration though. I challenged her passionately: “We have large families and our children are at an age where they are getting married and want to settle down here. Why is it that the president of the US has veto power over where we can build homes for our children? We are not taking Arab land – what right does he have?“ I have no idea if she listened to what I said or if she communicated it to her superiors. The US is a wonderful friend of Israel and that is especially true of the American people. As I travel around the world, I have come to appreciate how solid the friendship is between our people and the Americans. But the president of the US is not always such a wonderful friend. I hope that as Americans enter into the current election season, they consider carefully before they support any candidate. Ask them what they are going to do for Israel. And ask them what they are going to do against Israel.

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