Stalled budget negotiations and Benjamin Netanyahu's extension of the timeline for striking Iran's nuclear facilities have the Israeli press speculating that the Israeli prime minister will call early elections in February or March (they're currently scheduled for October 2013). But in a report today, the Israeli financial paper Globes suggested another reason why Netanyahu might want to hold elections as soon as possible:
The likely reelection of US
President Barack Obama is also part of Netanyahu's calculations. Netanyahu's
aides fear revenge by Obama against Netanyahu for supporting the Republican
candidate, Mitt Romney, throughout the campaign.
As my colleague Josh Keating pointed out yesterday, the Israeli leader hasn't explicitly endorsed either candidate in the U.S. presidential election. But many political observers in Israel and the United States have pointed out that Netanyahu and Romney are like-minded friends who even have many donors in common, and argued that Netanyahu's actions -- hosting Romney in Israel, demanding that Obama set red lines for Iran's nuclear program, chatting by phone with both Romney and Obama during a recent visit to New York -- amount to an implicit endorsement of the GOP candidate (or, at the very least, an unstated preference).
Globes isn't alone in raising the possibility that Obama, if reelected, could make Netanyahu pay a price for his perceived meddling in the race. As the president has pulled away from Romney in the polls, the idea has gained traction in the Israeli press. Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer, for instance, recently argued that Netanyahu's behavior could torpedo the prime minister's reelection bid:
Surveys show that Israelis
are more concerned over losing their strategic alliance with the United States
than they fear an Iranian nuclear bomb. Though very few serious observers
believe there is much prospect of U.S.-Israeli ties being seriously downgraded
during the administration of whichever candidate wins in November, there are
certainly grounds to believe that the Obama-Netanyahu relationship will become
even more acrimonious, should both leaders be reelected as polls indicate is
likely. They have both been so bad at papering over their differences in public
that there is little hope for any improvement once Obama enters his second
term, unencumbered by electoral considerations....
If ... Obama secures another four
years in the Oval Office, then no matter how he treats Netanyahu and Israel
over the next few months, Bibi's opponents and media critics will ceaselessly
remind voters how the prime minister allowed himself to be openly aligned with
the president's rival. Will that harm Netanyahu's reelection bid? It depends on
how deep the mistrust between him and Obama will seem and what other issues are
on the agenda, but opposition politicians are already routinely blaming him for
jeopardizing Israel's most crucial relationship. For now, not one of his
challengers is seen as a credible prime minister, and the electoral mathematics
still favor a right-wing-religious coalition, but a full-blown crisis with the
administration may yet prove the most significant threat to the chances of a
third Netanyahu victory. If Obama wins in November, Netanyahu may very well
regret his decision four months ago not to hold early elections in 2011.
In another Haaretz op-ed on Friday, Don Futterman, the Israel program director for the Moriah Fund, made a similar point:
Netanyahu and [casino magnate
Sheldon Adelson] may have been able to buy Republican support for their pet
positions: that Iran must be attacked and settlements allowed to flourish. They
forgot to consider the possibility that Obama might be reelected. At this
moment, it seems Netanyahu may have bet on the wrong horse, but why was the
leader of the Jewish state betting on horses at all?...
The Iranian threat should
never have become a partisan issue in U.S. election politics. If only our prime
minister could have looked after Israel's interest with dispassionate concern
instead of trying to play kingmaker. Due to the damage he has done to Israel's
relationship with the U.S. administration and the personal animus he has demonstrated
toward one of the most supportive American presidents Israel has ever known,
Netanyahu's legacy may prove more apocalyptic than messianic. His failure could
be epic and historic.
And here's former Knesset employee Susan Hattis Rolef in the Jerusalem Post a week earlier:
It is not difficult to guess
that irrespective of the result of the US presidential election, but certainly
in the case of an Obama victory which today seems more than likely, Netanyahu's [appearance on the Sunday talk shows] will further distance liberal American Jewry from Israel, emotionally,
culturally and financially.
Israel-US relations are already in need of some serious repair, and let us just
hope that we are not in a situation of "all the king's horses and all the
king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again."
In the wake of Netanyahu's visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, the White House and the prime minister's office have emphasized their common ground when it comes to dealing with Iran, the biggest thorn in the side of U.S.-Israeli relations. But while we may all be focused on Nov. 6, some in Israel are still preoccupied by the question of what happens the day after.
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