Commentary Magazine


Get Used to it Washington, Netanyahu’s Not Going Anywhere

Dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a constant theme of the Obama administration. While President Obama has cuddled up to an Islamist troublemaker and human rights violator like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he has made no secret of his abhorrence of Netanyahu. Obama has tried to humiliate Netanyahu and has abused him in public (via an open microphone while chatting with French President Sarkozy). Indeed, American policy toward Israel in 2009 seemed aimed at forcing the newly elected Netanyahu from office. Those maneuvers failed and the U.S. foreign policy establishment as well as its European counterparts settled down to wait for Netanyahu to be beaten at the next election.

It’ll be a long wait for Netanyahu’s critics as his government, which Obama thought was so unstable that it might be supplanted with a more pliant one led by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, seems likely to last until the prime minister is ready to ask the Israeli electorate for another term. But whether he chooses to go for an early election sometime this year or wait out the full four years that would leave him in office until 2013, right now it appears as if he is certain to win the next election. That’s the verdict of Shmuel Rosner, who writes in the International Herald Tribune (read here on the New York Times website) that not only is Netanyahu favored to win the next Israeli election, party realignment there means he is pretty much the only person who has any chance to lead the government.

Rosner details what is now common knowledge in Israeli politics though few Americans seem to pay attention to these facts. Kadima, which Obama once believed was well-placed to oust Netanyahu, is likely to be squeezed out of its current place as the leading opposition party in the next Knesset. It will face brutal competition both from a revived Labor Party that will run on a social justice platform rather than emphasizing the peace process as in the past as well as a new centrist party led by Yair Lapid. Kadima, which was formed by Ariel Sharon in 2005 by skimming off the leading opportunists in Likud and Labor, has no rationale other than office seeking and will likely be halved by the electorate at the ballot box.

That will leave Netanyahu and Likud in the drivers’ seat. Rather than being weakened by confrontations with Obama, as was the case with previous prime ministers who tangled with American presidents, Netanyahu has gained strength because Israelis see Obama as hostile to their country and as having materially damaged the chances for peace. And with Livni fading from sight, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman under a legal cloud and the two new contenders, Labor’s Shelly Yachimovitz and Lapid, seen as too inexperienced to be considered for the prime minister’s chair, Netanyahu is the only conceivable prime minister in the next Knesset.

Given the hostility between Washington and Jerusalem in the last three years, that will make for a frosty alliance if Obama is re-elected too. But no matter who is sitting in the White House a year from now, they had better get used to the idea that Israel’s leader will be named Netanyahu for some time to come.