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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A game plan for Netanyahu

While Israel Radio just raised the possibility that President Shimon Peres will try to pressure Binyamin Netanyahu to enter a national unity government with Kadima and Tzipi Livni out of 'national responsibility,' I want to look at what seems the most likely possibility: a Right-wing coalition led by Netanyahu and how it would get along with Washington.

There are a few points we need to keep in mind. First, the biggest issue on the table is not the 'Palestinians,' it's Iran. Everyone in this country understands that if the US does not do something about Iran, sometime before it actually develops nuclear weapons, Israel will have to do something about it. There's wall-to-wall support for that, and from Israel's perspective, the question isn't whether but how. Make no mistake: Israel will go it alone if we need to and Netanyahu and any other Prime Minister would have wall-to-wall support (except for the Arabs - maybe) for doing so.

Second, both Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman have accepted the notion that there will have to be a 'Palestinian' state reichlet. In Netanyahu's first term, he signed the Why Why Wye agreement under pressure from Bill Clinton, in which he gave away the high ground overlooking Hebron, and he went to Shepardstown where he nearly gave the Golan away to the Syrians. Netanyahu is nowhere near as 'hard right' as his depiction in the media here. We all know why the media here hate Netanyahu and it doesn't make him any more of a right winger. And given that Netanyahu and Lieberman control 43 seats between them, most of the coalition is probably willing to create a 'Palestinian' reichlet.

Third, Netanyahu will likely readopt his theme from the late 90's, when terrorism was virtually non-existent during his first term (1996-99). The theme was "if they give, they will receive, if they don't give...." In plain English: reciprocity. And this time, with all that has happened since 1999, Netanyahu is likely to get less resistance from Washington when he insists on reciprocity.

In November, I blogged this article by Shmuel Rosner that discusses how Bibi would get along with Obama. I still believe Rosner's analysis is correct. While Rosner assumes a 'centrist' coalition, and the media here will try to claim that Bibi and Lieberman are not a 'centrist' coalition, the media are wrong. If acceptance of a 'Palestinian' state is the litmus test, Netanyahu and Lieberman are 'centrist.'
Here are a couple of reasons why Netanyahu and Obama should be able to work it out:

1. Obama will not want to be seen as someone looking for a fight with the Israeli government. It would give a lot of people an opportunity to say “we told you so.”

2. Netanyahu learned a lesson in 1999, when the Clinton administration helped bring about the end of his government. He will try to avoid similar mistakes.

3. Clinton of 2008 is not the Clinton of 2000. The collapse of Camp David and the second Intifada have taught her (and most other people) that one can’t force a peace by fiat.

4. Rhetoric aside, the differences between Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak are not hugely significant. Netanyahu himself won’t be nearly as important as the coalition he forms. And a centrist coalition headed by Netanyahu can do just fine.

Having said all that, bad feelings and old animosities could still hurt Netanyahu, both in the administration and even more so in Congress (Netanyahu was very close with Newt Gingrich, something Congressional Democrats are unlikely to forget). There are also many Jewish leaders who don’t like the idea of Netanyahu as Prime Minister.

The bottom line? ... Netanyahu–if he manages to win, as polls predict–will have one challenge to overcome rather quickly. But then, so will the Obama administration.

Having said all that, will there be a 'Palestinian' reichlet in the next four years? It's unlikely, but not because Netanyahu won't give them one. It's unlikely because the 'Palestinians' won't fulfill the requirements Netanyahu will impose on them. And if there is a 'Palestinian' reichlet in the next four years, it's more likely to involve a territorial compromise than a return to the pre-1967 borders. We could have had much worse results last night.

As I was typing this, Israel Radio raised another possibility. They claim that Lieberman is 'unstable' (it is correct that no one here understands why he propped up Olmert after the Lebanon War and why he stayed in Olmert's coalition for so long) and that Netanyahu will not want to be dependent on him. And therefore - you guessed it - he'd be better off with Livni.

Sorry, but that's more wishful thinking from our leftist media. Given that Livni tried to undermine Olmert from within Kadima, why would Olmert want her as the number 2 in his coalition?


At 2:55 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I'm not sure why you assume President Obama would say Okay to an Israeli bombing of Iran...

Apparently President Bush said "No."

I don't see how Israel can do it without American acquiescence.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel as I said has her own national interests to follow. Every country does this and a statesman's personality can make a contribution but it is less critical than people think. In short, the US may be willing to live with a nuclear Iran but Israel cannot and there is a red line for the Jewish State.

With respect to a Palestinian reichlet I believe rhetoric aside, that ship has sailed. The Palestinians do not want a two state solution and no amount of goodwill and territorial concessions on Israel's part will make it happen. Israel tried this and found out the other side doesn't want to accept Israel's existence. So simply put, due to the other side's attitude, there will be no reichlet in the Land Of Israel in our generation, no matter who is going to be Israel's Prime Minister.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Israel can do it without US approval (that was the exercise in the Mediterranean last June). It's just a lot more complicated. But it doesn't require an overflight of Iraq.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - its a difficult challenge but Israel has the means to ensure Iran's nuclear program is stopped cold. Diplomacy has gone nowhere and sanctions have been ineffectual.

This leaves a resort to force. Prime Minister Designate Netanyahu will almost certainly ask the IDF to dust off plans for action in the near future. His biggest test is keeping his promise to the voters to deal with Iran.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger LB said...

It does leave Israel with a resort to force, however, there is one other option the world has.

I don't see it happening, but if countries will refuse to refine Iran's oil, the Iranian economy will crumble in a matter of weeks. India, I believe, actually did stop - but that still leaves too many other countries (Russia?).


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