Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Netanyahu dreads Obama

With Israeli elections just around the corner, an Obama win in the US could bode ill for Netanyahu, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem

Al-Ahram Weekly

Led by the Likud Party of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, religious and secular right-wing parties are consolidating their ranks ahead of Israeli general elections slated for January.
However, despite their clear lead over less extremist parties, such as Kadima and Labour, the right-wing bloc is worried that the possible re-election of President Barack Obama might prompt a segment of Israeli voters to shun Netanyahu and opt for the comparatively moderate parties.
Netanyahu is widely believed to have thrown his and his US Jewish supporters’ weight behind Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Moreover, according to Hebrew press reports, nearly 85 per cent of American Jewish immigrants in Israel, who still retain American citizenship, will vote for Romney.
The right-wing establishment in Israel is convinced that a Romney victory would be better for Israel as the Republican candidate has expressed strident pro-Israeli attitudes, whether on Iran or with regard to the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.
Some American Jewish leaders reportedly warned the Israeli Prime Minister of the dire consequences of meddling in the American elections as such interference could backfire and harm Israeli interests in case Obama is reelected.
A large majority of American Jewish voters are expected to vote for incumbent Obama whereas a clear majority of Israeli-Americans support Romney.
The Republican candidate is also more popular amongst the general Israeli public than is Obama.
The possible backlash of an Obama victory is already unsettling some right-wing politicians in Israel. On Monday, Danny Ayalon, the gung-ho deputy foreign minister, said Israel was indifferent to the outcome of the US elections. He pointed out that Israel enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress and that both presidential candidates, Obama and Romney, were fully committed to Israeli security.
While Ayalon’s statements contain a great deal of veracity, his remarks seem to conceal more than a modicum of apprehension over the likely possibility of an Obama victory.
Meanwhile, the Israeli election scene continues to polarise. Last week, the Likud and Israeli Betenu (Israel is our home) Party headed by the extremist Moldovan politician Avigdor Leiberman agreed to form a single electoral bloc to contest the election in January.
The Likud-Israel Betenu unity is expected to cause the Likud to drift further to the right, complicating relations with Washington, especially if Obama wins a second term in the White House. The ostensible integration of the two right wing parties in one electoral bloc is likely to also corrode whatever chances may still exist for reviving the peace process.
A preview of the Netanyahu-Leiberman partnership was revealed this week when Leiberman, Israel’s foreign minister, warned Catherine Ashton, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, that Israel would strangle the Palestinian Authority (PA) in case the latter went ahead with its bid to gain full non-member status at the United Nations.
Leiberman is notorious for his extremist views. In the past, he called on the Israeli army to carpet bomb the West Bank in order to induce mass Palestinian flight to Jordan. On a different occasion, he urged the Israeli government to throw Palestinian political and resistance prisoners into the Dead Sea. He also called for the bombing of the Aswan Dam in Egypt.
A partnership between Netanyahu and Leiberman will likely see a division of labour between the two politicians, whereby Leiberman would undertake the task of forcing the PA on its knees while Netanyahu would concentrate on the Iranian nuclear issue.
This week, Netanyahu declared that he would attack Iran alone if necessary. Speaking to Israeli Television Monday, the Israeli premier said that by the time his term in office was over he wouldn’t allow Iran to have a nuclear weapons programme. If necessary, he said, he would lead an independent Israeli attack against Iran, even without support from the United States.
“When former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel, was it with the consent of the Americans? When former Prime Minster Menachem Begin bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, was that with the consent of the Americans?” asked Netanyahu.
“If there is someone here who, as prime minister of Israel, cannot act on things that are fundamental to the state, to its future and its security and depends only on approval of others, he doesn’t deserve to lead.
“When we didn’t have a state, when we didn’t have an army, and when someone threatened to destroy us and actually annihilated us, we went and pleaded with others. Today, we don’t plead, we prepare.”
Netanyahu’s remarks are being seen as both an attempt to blackmail the upcoming US administration as well as to mollify the right-wing electorate in Israel.
Several Israeli leaders have been warning that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, without coordination with the US, could be disastrous, especially if such an attack failed to achieve its stated goals.
On the other hand, a successful Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would undoubtedly constitute a trump card for Netanyahu in the January elections. The failure or indecisiveness of such an attack, on the other hand, would seriously undermine Netanyahu’s political chances and might even end the Israeli premier’s political career.
Despite the clear hegemony of the extreme right in Israel, there are strong attempts by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make a comeback, possibly in cooperation with former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.
According to the latest opinion polls, an Olmert-Livni list would win a significant number of seats in the next Knesset, which could seriously complicate Netanyahu’s task of forming the next Israeli government.
But sceptics are in doubt as to whether a government led by Olmert and Livni would reach a final peace agreement with the Palestinians given the vast chasm between Israeli and Palestinian stances on the peace process.
Both Livni and Olmert reject the idea of repatriating large number of Palestinian refugees to their former homes and villages in what is now Israel.
The “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees is a cornerstone of Palestinian conditions for a peace with Israel.

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