Running for re-election – but against whom?

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, December 5, 2014.

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Prime Minister Netanyahu indeed has rivals worth running against, but they are not Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, nor Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu must run against Barack H. Obama and Mahmoud Abbas.

In order to win the elections that have been foisted upon him, Prime Minister Netanyahu must run a focused campaign against Israel’s bona fide foes, not against the novice and petty politicians with whom he has been squabbling.

His kvetching about Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid only diminishes him in the eyes of voters. Whiny rants about anarchy in the coalition won’t advance Netanyahu too far.

Instead, Netanyahu must market himself as a leader who transcends the local mud-slinging and who can responsibly navigate a path for Israel in the face of the many regional and international threats.

To put it another way: Netanyahu indeed has rivals worth running against, but they are not Livni and Lapid, nor Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu should be running against Barack H. Obama and Mahmoud Abbas.

OBAMA HAS MADE it clear that in coming period he is “not going to be able to manage,” alas, to fully defend Israel in international forums. Abbas is seeking condemnation, isolation, criminalization and boycott of Israel, alongside recognition of virtual Palestinian statehood. Obama is going to smirk from the sidelines.

Obama himself will undoubtedly yet turn up the pressure on Israel in myriad ways in an attempt to precipitously force Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines. He isn’t going to leave Israel alone for one single day. And we already know that the U.S. president has decided to acquiesce in the near-nuclear-weapon status of Iran.

So, Israel has tough challenges ahead, and needs a leader who will stand firm. Netanyahu can and should say forthrightly to the Israeli public: I have stood strong against the unfriendly pressures of Obama for six years. Re-elect me in order to see Israel through the ominous final two years of the Obama administration, as well.

This is messaging that would be both real and resonant. Israelis fear and resent Obama administration policies, even as they still overwhelmingly believe in America and the American-Israeli alliance. The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies published this week a public opinion poll which shows that Israeli public believes that the Obama Administration has greatly weakened America’s standing in the Middle East, and thinks that its policies on towards Iran, ISIS and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are truly “bad.”

This is a key electoral calling card for Netanyahu: Standing tall against a hostile world. It will become even more so if and when the Obama administration and European leaders attempt to intervene in the Israeli election campaign by warning the Israeli public that Israel can expect increased international isolation if Netanyahu is reelected.

Such intervention will likely boomerang to Netanyahu’s benefit, as it has in past campaigns, but I suspect Obama and associates won’t be able to resist doing so.

In fact, I assume that one of the genuine reasons Netanyahu is going to the polls now is directly connected to such expected pressures. Israel can’t be expected to launch any risky diplomatic ventures while in electoral flux. By casting Israel into election mode for a lengthy period of time – it could be July before a new government settles into its cabinet seats – Netanyahu is running down the clock on Obama.

That is not a bad diplomatic strategy at all; perfectly legitimate and understandable to the Israeli voter. After all, Netanyahu came to office in order to put a long-term break on the galloping withdrawals of the Oslo era. Netanyahu should find a way to own up to this strategy, even though it’s not politically correct to admit to this in diplomatic company. I think he’ll be rewarded by the Israeli public.

Herzog, Livni and Obama may consider Netanyahu a cowardly failure (or “chicken-dropping”) because he won’t match the follies of his predecessors and risk the country’s security with territorial withdrawals that could result in the creation of another terror state on Israel’s doorstep. But Israelis understand that Netanyahu’s willingness to say no to Obama is all that stands between them and another fiasco like the destruction of Gush Katif and the gifting of Gaza to Hamas.

And consider this too: Wouldn’t it be sweet to see Netanyahu outlast Obama in office?

Then there is Abbas. Opposition leader Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog can babble about the need to cut a deal with Mahmoud Abbas, and Tzipi Livni can ridiculously and pompously flail-away with certainty that “With me in the negotiating room, peace is attainable” – but the Israeli public knows better.

Abbas is washed-up as a peace partner, certainly since he partnered with Hamas, launched a campaign of lies and incitement regarding the Temple Mount, and lauded terrorists who attacked Israelis in Jerusalem. Everybody in Israel remembers Abbas’ monstrous speech at UN in September outrageously accusing Israel of “genocide” in Gaza.

Netanyahu can capitalize on this, by highlighting the flimsiness and fancifulness of the opposition’s belief in Abbas. I won’t let us be suckered by Abbas again – Netanyahu can assert, and it will resonate.

ISRAELI SOCIETY needed another election campaign just now like a hole in the head. So much invective, radical rhetoric, and ugliness is ahead – all of it cynically hyped and exaggerated for campaign purposes. Ugh.

Therefore, Netanyahu must rise above the fray and focus on the big picture. There are concrete, looming challenges ahead, and nobody else running in this campaign is true prime ministerial material.

That’s not just an argument for reelection by default. It’s a robust and realistic campaign platform.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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