On March 2, Israelis will go to the polls for the third time in a year to try to elect a prime minister and a new Knesset. They are frustrated and exhausted from the ongoing electoral campaign, the repeated trips to the polls and the repeated unresolved outcomes. But unless the polls are drastically mistaken and have been since the last election in September, there’s every reason to believe that there will be another deadlock, resulting in a fourth election.
The only realistic chance for the impasse to break this time is for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a way to cobble together a majority coalition. His opponent, former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Benny Gantz, has no credible path to the prime minister’s office.
Netanyahu’s stake in the race goes beyond retaining the prime minister’s office, as he is under indictment for fraud and breach of public trust, and is facing prison unless he can use his position as prime minister to shield himself from accountability. His trial is due to start shortly after the election.
Netanyahu is working tirelessly for every electoral edge. His recent overtures to Morocco and Sudan were an attempt to bolster his image as the leader who can improve Israel’s ties to the rest of the world without granting the Palestinians their rights and freedom. Now he’s moving to solidify his support among the settler movement, which has recently voiced some frustration with him. He’s making some very significant decisions with long-term ramifications, and all for his re-election bid. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
The “Deal of the Century,” the mythical agreement floated for most of Donald Trump’s first term in office, is on the table again. Earlier this month, Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s new envoy to the equally mythical “Middle East peace process,” made his first official trip to Israel, setting off another round of speculation that the plan might soon be unveiled.
Although National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien denied that Israel’s upcoming elections — the third in a year — had any bearing on Washington’s plans, no one was convinced. Now, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, have been invited to Washington for what is expected to be a discussion of the plan’s details.
No one believes the plan will yield peace or an agreement of any kind. But that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact. In the short term, it has already created a political shock wave in Israel as elections loom in March. In the longer term, it has the potential to deal a devastating blow to hopes for stability and, more importantly, for Palestinian rights. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
The ugly fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force leader, Qassem Soleimani seems to have halted for the moment. But the forces that pushed the United States and Iran to the brink of all-out war this week are still in place. This isn’t an end, just a short break between acts. But the pullback from the brink of war can also present some opportunities.
Iran opened the door to de-escalation and Trump took it, seemingly prioritizing his base’s concern of another U.S. war in the Middle East over the bluster and bad advice of his secretary of state, among other pro-war advisers.
But this relief must be tempered with caution. We may have taken a step or two back from the brink of war, but we’re still perilously close to the edge. The Iran war hawks, neoconservative ideologues, and pro-Likud activists are not going to stop pressing for provocative measures against Iran. Whether they are in the Trump administration or not, the forces that have been pressing for war with Iran must be confronted now, more than ever. We also need to consider the role of local actors and how that might affect both American and Iranian strategy. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
Israeli elections always feature a lot of political drama. But when the Knesset was dissolved on December 24, it set off a flurry of action that was furious even by Israeli standards. The drama is likely to increase between now and election day on April 9 even though the winner is almost certainly a foregone conclusion.
Soon after the new elections were announced, political bombshells went off in parties on the right and in the center. It started with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked bolting their party, HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home). Soon after, the head of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, publicly humiliated former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, thereby eliminating the Zionist Union coalition his party had formed with Livni’s Hatnuah party.
From the point of view of all Israeli politicians—except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—this election is really about positioning for the next one. Netanyahu is going to win, but it’s very likely to be his final term as prime minister. A fight is now taking place over the succession, amid the ongoing collapse of the center and center-left of Israeli politics. Read more at LobeLog
It seems the long reign of Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to its end. Nothing is certain yet, and there will doubtless be more scenes in this tragedy before the curtain falls. But the prospects of Netanyahu continuing as Israel’s prime minister are growing dim.
More than a few are understandably celebrating the light at the end of the tunnel of Netanyahu’s tenure. And, unlike some, I would contend that Israelis have reason for optimism. But for those of us outside of Israel who support the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis and wish for all of those in the troubled region to enjoy equal rights, the fall of Netanyahu comes too late to make much difference.