According to the polls, it was not supposed to happen, but it did: Benjamin Netanyahu won a third term as prime minister of Israel and fourth for the Likud Party. The White House’s disappointment with the election results is no secret: Netanyahu and President Obama share a frosty friendship.
Obama went so far as to break protocol, waiting two full days after the election to make the usual congratulatory call to Netanyahu. Right after the election it was Obama’s spokesmen who congratulated the Israeli people for participating in the democratic process, snubbing the victor.
How did Bibi do it?
Initially, the economy and high cost of living gave an advantage to rival Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union Party. However, it was Netanyahu’s steadfast campaign on security issues that ultimately paved the way to victory. He even reversed his support for an independent Palestinian state based on the radical ideologies enveloping the Middle East. Voters felt Herzog was conceding too much to the Palestinians under these circumstances, including transferring land captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War, East Jerusalem and Gaza toward a Palestinian state. The terrorist group Hamas, for all practical purposes, dominates Gaza.
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It is unfortunate that Netanyahu backed away from Palestinian statehood — though he reversed that stance after the election. It was a reflection that the Palestinian people have been among the biggest losers in the radicalization of the Mideast. They have been pawns of their own corrupt leadership and terrorist groups alike.
That, however, was not the crux of Netanyahu’s campaign. It was based on the threat presented by ISIS and Iran, which seek the annihilation of the Jewish state. He made the case that this election was about Israel’s survival, and it worked. Israelis may be divided on many issues, but foreign policy is not one of them.
They appreciated Netanyahu’s trip to Paris in January to march in solidarity with French after the terrorist attack against the journalists of the magazine Charlie Hebdo as well as the Jewish victims of a terrorist attack at a kosher market, while Obama did not.
Netanyahu’s controversial address to both chambers of Congress a few weeks ago made clear his critical concern with the terms President Obama is reportedly negotiating to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
We should all be concerned.
Not unlike former President Jimmy Carter, the Obama administration believes — erroneously — it can tame radical ideologies and religious extremists with strategies that encourage prosperity, respect and restraint as if all governments shared the same fundamental values. They don’t. Radical regimes use a cost/benefit analysis that is different from that of pragmatic Western thinkers. It is difficult to conceive the ayatollah evolving into a good global citizen, but that is what Obama is banking on. If only it were that simple.
Iran is determined to become a nuclear power, and the Obama administration may be willing to trust it more than it should. Reports indicate that Iran will be allowed thousands of centrifuges and the restrictions on its nuclear program would be phased out in a decade. Iran insists that it needs to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium for the peaceful use of nuclear power, which is not the practice of peaceful countries that rely on nuclear energy — they import it.
The only reason Iran insists upon it is for military purposes.
Monitoring and inspecting the nuclear programs, which would be required in an international agreement, would depend upon the Iranian regimes willingness to be transparent.
It would not be surprising if a poor agreement with Iran would lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East. Who wants that?
The United States, along with the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, are rushing to establish a basic framework for an agreement with Iran by the March 31 deadline. All of this one year after these same countries did nothing to protect the Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula. So much for the international gatekeepers.
A stable Middle East needs for Israel and the United States to remain strong and engaged. Obama may not like Bibi, but the United States’ commitment is not to Netanyahu but to the state of Israel. The Israeli election shows a lack of confidence in the Obama White House to do just that.