Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Obama has hurt Israel

A guest post by Vox Populi

With respect to Rabbi Fink, I can think of at least one very concrete way in which the President’s efforts have harmed Israel. And I say this as a general supporter of the President, and someone who believes that the Americans should exert pressure on the Israeli government to pursue a negotiated settlement with greater vigor.

When Obama called for Netanyahu to impose a settlement freeze before beginning negotiations, that put Netanyahu in a very difficult position. Not because freezing settlements is a bad idea – I’m all for it – but because Netanyahu can’t freeze settlements. Obama misjudged Israel’s domestic political situation, and thought that the only thing standing in his way was Netanyahu’s recalcitrance. The sad fact is, Netanyahu is not Obama’s biggest problem; Netanyahu is his best friend on this.

Even if Bibi wanted to freeze settlements, and go full steam ahead on a two state solution, he could not. The math just isn’t there. A full settlement freeze would destroy his coalition, and probably fracture his party as well. Then, if you exclude Arab parties, there probably aren’t 61 seats in the Knesset in favor of a settlement freeze.

By my calculations, here’s what you can count on for a settlement freeze. 3 from Meretz; 5 from Ha’atzma’ut; 8 from Labor, and probably 28 from Kadima. That gets you 44. To get the other 17, you need Bibi to be able to deliver 17 out of 27 of Likud’s seats. I’m very skeptical such a thing can be done.

Even if such a thing were possible, it would be incredibly controversial to do without an election. You can’t just blow up the government and build a new one without calling an election. And I just don’t see 51% of Jewish votes going to a settlement freeze, especially then.

Even if Bibi did form a new coalition without calling an election, why would he be Prime Minister? He wouldn’t represent the median seat in the coalition, and he wouldn’t even be the leader of the largest party in the coalition. Back when he originally formed his government, one of the reasons Livni refused to join was because her party was bigger than his. She should be Prime Minister! Why would Bibi want to accept a subordinate position in another coalition?

Essentially, Obama was asking Netanyahu to blow up his government, and quite likely, resign his office. The only way that would happen is if Netanyahu was so enamored of a settlement freeze that he was willing to lose power to make it happen. Needless to say, Netanyahu is not enamored of a settlement freeze.

By calling for Netanyahu to do something he could not do, as a precondition for negotiations, Obama set up the current impasse. Now we have this situation where Netanyahu can credibly claim that he offered to negotiate, and blame Palestinian intransigence for insisting on a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations. And the Palestinians can blame Netanyahu and Israeli intransigence for not agreeing to a full settlement freeze. And the Palestinians can’t agree to terms that Obama deemed unfair. So we’re stuck. This is at least partly the President’s fault. He should have paid closer attention to Israeli politics.

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