Permalink | Date posted: May 14, 2012
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to absorb the opposition Kadima Party into a gargantuan ruling coalition was probably not about foreign policy. With a growing rift between Israel’s secular and religious communities, the contentious issue of military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox students was already threatening Netanyahu’s conservative coalition. Instead of constantly covering his right flank, frequently under assault from his natural yet troublesome religious and nationalist allies, Netanyahu could have just as easily called new elections and strengthened the position of his own Likud Party, which was likely to gain seats.
Instead, in a political masterstroke that has impressed the prime minister’s critics and admirers alike, Netanyahu reached out to the centrist Kadima Party—composed largely of former Likudniks—and captured a parliamentary supermajority of 94 seats in the 120-seat body. In the process, the conservative leader cemented his grip on power and neutralized the right-wing gadflies that were poised to bring down his government.
The move does more to ensure Netanyahu’s continued survival as prime minister than anything else. But given the prominent role Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet—particularly the settler bloc—has ostensibly played in staying the prime minister’s hand on the Palestinian peace process, the new arrangement should give Netanyahu plenty of political space to chart a more moderate course with respect to the Palestinians, should he be so inclined.
The neoconservative right in the United Statesseems unconcerned by Bibi’s gambit. Netanyahu and his partners, writes Jonathan Tobin at Commentary, “have much more in common on the question of dealing with the Palestinians than they differ. All support in principle a two-state solution and all understand that the only real obstacle to such a deal is the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.” Tobin also took the opportunity to “remind liberal American critics of Netanyahu just how far out of step they are with political reality in Israel.”
The move could also give Netanyahu a freer hand to launch a strike against Iran. However dimly his right-wing coalition partners may have regarded the Palestinians, they remained skeptical about an Israeli war with the Islamic Republic. His new partners may prove more easily persuaded.
On the one hand, notes J.J. Goldberg at the Forward, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz has taken a more cautious line on Iranthan Netanyahu, deferring to former intelligence officials like Meir Dagan who oppose a unilateral Israeli strike. On the other, according to one Israeli military commentator, Netanyahu “can do whatever he wants. He just has to convince Mofaz to agree with him.” Jeffrey Golderg (who argues that the left “doesn’t matter very much in Israel these days”) noted that Netanyahu “would want to lead as broad a coalition as possible should the Iran issue come to a head,” adding that Netanyahu would no longer be pressured to launch an attack on Iran in the interim between an Israeli election in September and the U.S. election in November.
The new coalition also preserves the role of the unpopular defense minister Ehud Barak, a stringent Iran hawk who has slowly nudged Netanyahu into the hawkish camp. Unlike the most militant anti-Palestinian elements of Netanyahu’s cabinet, the most fervid anti-Iranian elements are staying on.
It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will leverage his supermajority toward an ambitious policy agenda or simply toward his own political survival. But whatever he decides to do, he appears to have created sufficient political space to accomplish it comfortably. When it comes to Palestine and Iran, two issues of tension between Washington and Jerusalem on which Netanyahu has hidden behind his coalition, Washington should take note: they are negotiating with a man who controls his own political destiny. And they should hold him accountable for it.
A writer for The Atlantic who served in the Israeli military, Goldberg’s publications have often appeared to bolster hawkish U.S. policies in the Middle East, particularly with respect to Iran and Iraq.
Inter Press Service What led the Middle East hit parade last week was less the chords struck harmoniously at the…
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The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neoconservative think tank and advocacy group based in Washington, has endeavored to undermine the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran. FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz recently voiced support for measures by hawkish members of Congress that seek to give Congress a greater role in the negotiations, such as getting an “up or down vote on” any deal. Dubowitz has also suggested that Congress “defend the sanctions architecture” on Iran even if an agreement is reached.
The Center for Security Policy (CSP), run by notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney, has rabidly opposed negotiating with Iran over its country’s nuclear program. With the deadline to reach an agreement fast approaching, CSP fellows have argued that it would pose “an existential threat to Israel” and a “deadly threat to U.S. national security.” They have also urged Congress to “repudiate the nuclear talks and any agreement resulting from them.”
AIPAC, “America’s pro-Israel lobby,” has attempted to influence the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 by supporting hawkish congressional measures that many analysts say could derail the diplomatic process. The lobby has strongly endorsed a letter from Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) pressuring Secretary of State John Kerry to broaden the scope of demands in a potential agreement, which many observers have criticized as containing “distortions of the truth.”
Although largely dormant in recent years, the Committee on the Present Danger—the Cold War-era pressure group that was re-launched after 9/11 with support from leading neoconservatives—continues to use it website to plug fear-mongering media stories and op-eds, focusing mainly on Iran. One recent article, written by a CPD member, rails against efforts to reach a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program, claiming: “It is hard to rationalize the past history of this fanatical Muslim regime’s secret nuclear efforts and any hope that it would abide by such an agreement, or, indeed, that UN or other surveillance would be more effective than in the past.”
The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a leading neoconservative think tank, sought to frame the 2014 midterm elections as a “foreign policy election,” even though only 13 percent of voters listed foreign policy as a top issue in exit polls. FPI nevertheless hopes that the Republican-controlled Senate will “actively lead on foreign policy issues” and has prioritized passing Sen. Robert Menendez’s controversial Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act. The bill would impose additional sanctions on Iran and would likely scuttle on-going negotiations with Iran.