By Larry Gordon
Next week’s election in Israel might be about the here and now, but, more importantly, it is about who is going to be Israel’s leader of the future.
In all likelihood, according to the latest polls, Benjamin Netanyahu will once again lead the Likud and continue to serve as prime minister. He may also be able to arrange the largest right-wing government in many years if he can manage to reach an agreement with Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Gideon Saar, who leads the New Hope Party. Saar is on record saying that he will not serve with Netanyahu, but that might just be an extreme bargaining chip and position.
So the real competition and most telling occurrence next week will be about who the voters in Israel believe should lead the country next: Bennett or Saar? And then there is the matter of how the composition of the new government and its leadership will interface with President Biden and his administration.
The last time there was a Democrat in the White House it was Barack Obama, and as far as Israel and Bibi were concerned it was not a pretty picture. It is additionally important to note, of course, that Joe Biden was the vice president then.
Interestingly, while one of the early goals of the Biden White House is to reverse as many of the Trump policies as possible, most of that effort to date and probably going forward will be nothing more than a shadow of a reversal. In other words, the objective is to reverse Trump policies, but not really. That is the thin reality of the Biden administration so far on many levels.
When Obama was elected after eight years of George W. Bush it was all about creating what they then called “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. It was about an all-out effort to create Palestine out of as much of Israeli land as possible. And it was about supporting the short-lived Arab Spring that brought the violent Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt.
That was the Obama way of doing things. There are those in the Biden administration today who would like to replicate the Obama approach, but it does not look like they are strong or influential enough to make a real push in that direction.
In other words, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is safe. Jerusalem as the declared capital of Israel is safe, too. On top of that, the pursuit of diplomatic relations with Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar is proceeding despite of the lack of enthusiasm by the Biden people to preside over a new and real era of peace in the Middle East. No matter how inane and unworkable, their mantra is “two states.”
One of the many disappointments of the Biden administration at this early juncture is their intent to renew the Iran nuclear deal. Despite some bad players in the administration, like former national security adviser Susan Rice and former secretary of state John Kerry, you can rest assured that as a result of Bibi’s pressure on Biden and his new Secretary of State Tony Blinken, there will be no renewal of that dangerous deal.
Before we get to those issues, however, there is the matter of next week’s election in Israel, the country’s fourth election in just two years. There is a fascinating dynamic at play and several possible coalition options that may result that are very exciting for right-leaning supporters of the Jewish state.
If voters perform as anticipated, Benjamin Netanyahu might be able to lead the greatest and strongest right-wing coalition in many years. If things break in the proper direction, the future Netanyahu government has a chance of being composed of 70–74 Knesset Members.
His potential coalition partners would include Mr. Bennett and Mr. Saar, who, according to polls, can combine for a total of 23 or so Knesset seats. While a 61-seat majority is needed, the path to 61 and beyond is varied.
On the other side of the political equation is the once again anticipated power of Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid. Polls presently show his party growing in popularity and being able to draw the second-highest number of Knesset mandates after Likud. Most polls show Likud at 28–29 and Yesh Atid at 18–20. Lapid and Netanyahu are not compatible, which leaves both party leaders with the possibility of being able to carve their own governing coalition together. It is possible, with support from the left, Lieberman, and the religious parties, that Lapid could put together a majority. Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu has said awful and disparaging things about the religious parties, but that could change if Lapid would be at the helm instead of Netanyahu. However, that scenario, while possible, is unlikely.
Then there is the matter of the combined Religious Zionist/Otzma Yehudit Party, otherwise known as the extreme right wing and which current polls show as pulling five seats in the Knesset.
For the purposes of this essay, the matter to consider is how Bibi will get along with Biden and his administration. It is important to note that Bibi has had an excellent relationship with the former longtime senator Joe Biden who today is a shadow of himself.
If Netanyahu is successful and elected for the sixth time to serve as prime minister, what will a White House sit-down with Mr. Biden look like and what can it accomplish? The reality-based answer is … not much. If Bibi sits in front of the cameras with Biden he is, in fact, really sitting with Ms. Rice, Mr. Kerry, and Secretary Blinken.
The one thing this new administration has demonstrated is that the labels and representations of what actually exists are more important than any reality on the ground. For the last few weeks we have been treated to the debate on the matter of the situation at the U.S.–Mexican border. Many have referred to the ongoing debacle down there as a burgeoning crisis. The Biden administration originally insisted that it was a “challenge” that was being managed. Over the last week, as the crisis spiraled even more out of control, the Biden spokespeople shifted to saying that the situation on the border was created by the Trump administration.
The Biden Middle East policy will most likely be dominated by the same style of rhetoric and little more. The Biden foreign policy team will advocate a two-state solution and the urgent creation of a Palestinian State. Most importantly for the Palestinian side, the administration will commit hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority, which will enrich their leaders but get little else done.
Israeli leadership will focus on autonomy for the Palestinians, which already exists, and if the new government is right-leaning enough there might be a move in the direction of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, which will drive the Biden people wild.
If Bibi is successful, he will want to leave sovereignty over the territories as his legacy. According to some political observers, it looks like Naftali Bennett will be what they refer to as a king maker. Netanyahu is already talking about rotating premiership with Bennett, but keep in mind that he entered into the same agreement with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz … and we all know where that ended up.
One thing is clear, and that is that everything at this point is up in the air both in Israel and here in the White House. Well, elections have consequences, and that is exactly what we are presently witnessing.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.