A crystal ball on 2016

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, January 1, 2016.

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In my political forecast for the year ahead, I see an Olmert pardon, Abbas resignation, Rubio victory, Netanyahu-Putin partnership, and more trouble from Obama.

crystal ball

One year ago today, I accurately forecasted in these pages that in 2015 President Obama would cement a complete reorientation of US policy in the Mideast and Persian Gulf by cutting a grand deal with the Persians.

Sure enough, Obama’s appalling pact with Ayatollah Rouhani merely postpones Teheran’s nuclear bomb production for a few years, while legitimizing Iranian hegemony in the region.

I also foresaw that Mahmoud Abbas would ramp up his campaign of lies and incitement to violence regarding the Temple Mount.

But I was wrong in expecting formation of a Netanyahu-Herzog national unity government, and in presuming that Tzipi Livni would bow out of public life.

Looking into my crystal ball for the year ahead, this is what I anticipate:

* Barack Hussein Obama: The late-term US president will be unable to resist his own ideological urges to further squeeze Israel, and will act to set markers for an internationally imposed “solution” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Obama will seek to support a United Nations Security Council decision that guts Resolution 242, rupturing forty years of US-Israel understandings on pursuit of negotiated peace in the Middle East, and giving new strength to the Palestinian campaign to criminalize Israel.

The danger zone for such Obama action lies in the seam period between the November presidential election and January 2017 inauguration, but Obama is likely to telegraph this in another one of his moralizing speeches in the spring.

Israel and its friends in the US will have to warn of truly harsh reaction in order to dissuade Obama from moving in this ruinous direction. Israel will have to genuinely threaten to annex the majority of the West Bank, and Congress to slash almost all funding for the UN. But I’m not sure that even such pressures will deter Obama.

* Mahmoud Abbas: After threatening to do so a dozen times, Abbas will finally, permanently resign from leadership of the Palestinian Authority, setting off a power struggle in the West Bank. The Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj is best placed to succeed him, or at least Israel hopes so. Faraj would probably have to share power with a more known political figure like Jibril Rajoub (ugh!), or Mohammad Shtayyeh (double ugh), or Marwan Barghouti (triple the trouble).

In the interim, current prime minister Rami Hamdallah can be counted upon to promise “stability” for international donors to the PA, so that Ramallah can continue to rake-in the many aid dollars, euros, krones, yens, francs and deutschmarks.

* Syria: Despite Obama (“ISIS is the JV team,” “Al Qaeda is in retreat”) the two Islamofascist organizations are back with a vengeance and gunning for Israel. Shuhada al-Yarmouk (ISIS in Syria) and Jabhat al-Nusra (AQ in Syria) are well-equipped and entrenched not far off Israel’s Golan border. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s threats to hit Israel (from Sinai too) should be taken seriously.

Will the new Czar of Syria, Vladmir Putin, be willing to block Iranian and Islamic muckraking on Israel’s northern border and/or turn a blind eye to Israel’s military operations in Syria and Lebanon against radical Islamic enemies?

I think that there is room for Netanyahu to craft a true working partnership with Putin that buttresses Israeli security. While Russia and Iran share an interest in stabilizing the Assad regime, Russia has no reason to provide cover for Iranian and Islamic operations again Israel. Careful Israeli maneuvering can drive a wedge between Russia and Iran.

* Government: The current coalition will remain stable. Netanyahu will keep Bayit Yehudi in the government and avoid bringing in Labor. The last thing the prime minister wants is a strong right-wing challenge from Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman coalescing outside the government. The Haredi parties can be counted on to sit quietly too.

The only thing Netanyahu has to worry about, in the longer term, are leadership challenges from Gideon Saar and Nir Barkat – which is why Netanyahu is seeking to solidify his position in an early Likud leadership vote next month.

* Opposition: Bougie Herzog and Yair Lapid should be sweating. Former IDF chief-of-staff Benny Gantz and Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai are planning runs for national office, and are likely to eclipse the current opposition party leaders. It’s the only way the center-left has any chance of challenging Netanyahu (and even then, their chances of besting the right-wing are slim).

* Ehud Olmert: The disgraced former prime minister won’t go to jail. He will be pardoned by President Ruby Rivlin. Outrageous, I know, but you heard it here first! The two Jerusalemites go way back together, and anything that Rivlin can do to irritate Netanyahu – he will.

* Natural gas: The Supreme Court may invalidate the government’s deal with the gas conglomerates (meant to develop and share the profits of the Tamar and Leviathan fields). This would be disastrous and wrong. We’re talking about a classic case of executive branch economic and security policymaking, in which that the courts should not intervene. Nevertheless, the Left is counting on the Supreme Court to anatomize Netanyahu’s most important infrastructure project. Beware.

* US presidential elections: Donald Trump will blow-out and quit the race (even though it doesn’t look that way just now), with Marco Rubio or Chris Christie besting Hillary Clinton in the November vote by a slim margin. Well, at least that is what I hope will happen!

* Things that won’t happen this year, unfortunately: Obama will never mention the words Islam and terrorism in the same sentence. The General Assembly will not laud Israel for humanitarian assistance to victims of the Syrian civil war. Netanyahu won’t build in E-1. Housing prices will not fall, despite Moshe Kachlon’s efforts.

The Supreme Court will not rule in favor of allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, despite the clear civil and national rights case for doing so.

Israeli Arab leaders won’t have one good word to say about the State of Israel despite the unprecedented NIS 15 billion Arab community development package passed this week by the government and the fact that Israeli Arabs enjoy the greatest freedoms of any Arabs in the Middle East.

One hundred thousand American Jews, alas, will probably not come on aliyah. But we can continue to hope.

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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