Thursday, 24 January 2013

Obama's chance with Israel's new coalition

The changes in Israel's government could offer a chance to Barack Obama, the Palestinians and the peace process.

"Netanyahu" by James Hunter

The murmurs this week among journalists, political analysts, and bloggers alike brought us to one inevitable conclusion: the Israeli government is about to take a sharp right turn, potentially adding even more tension to an already strained relationship between the US and Israel. Yet, the exit polls this Tuesday showed this to be painfully premature conclusion. While Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud/Israel-Beiteinu coalition still managed to gain the largest number of Knesset seats (31), they hemorrhaged votes to Yesh Atid ("There is a Future") - a centrist party less than a year old led by television host Yair Lapid that landed 19 seats in the Knesset, prompting the expected formation of a centre-right coalition within the next 42 days.

There should be no illusions that this new coalition will force the third-term prime minister to undertake any serious alterations to his policies regarding the Iranian nuclear programme or Palestinian statehood. While Lapid assured voters that his party would only support a government that sought to "revive" the peace process, he has already indicated his plan to join the coalition. After all, Lapid’s ideology regarding the peace process is not dissimilar to that of Netanyahu; he has expressed intent to maintain control of Israeli settlements inside the Green Line and assert Jerusalem’s status as the "undivided" capital of Israel.

However, even if Netanyahu opts to placate domestic dissidents and maintain his strength in the new coalition with the popular and charismatic Lapid - who commands significant support from secular Tel-Avivians - he could still face another round of elections as early as this summer. Netanyahu’s political weakness (real or perceived) provides an opportunity for the freshly sworn-in Barack Obama, relieved from ever having to face the U.S. electorate again, to exercise the full gravitas of his second-term mandate. By the end of his first term, Obama had already vaguely identified the borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war as a "starting point" for a two-state solution - a policy that does not radically differ from that of George W. Bush but manages to remain nebulous enough as to allow him to apply additional pressure on Netanyahu to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli Prime Minister is now compelled both by domestic and international pressures to advance talks with the Palestinians, who were recently granted observer status by the UN. While the primary obstacle to the Palestinians’ full UN statehood is still a US (and possibly UK) Security Council veto, there is little indication that Obama is keen on continuing that trend in his second term. Recently, Obama has been quoted as saying "Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are", to which a pre-election Netanyahu defiantly retorted "Only Israel’s citizens are those who will be the ones to determine who faithfully represents Israel’s vital interests". It seems now that Netanyahu will have to make clear exactly what those interests are in order to satisfy both Washington and his own constituency at home. @Tex_Taylor
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