A crystal ball on 2018

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, January 5, 2018.

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My diplomatic-political forecast for this year: There will be no war and no election in Israel, no division of Jerusalem, and no European support for Iranian protesters. I hope to see steps toward Arab-Israeli peace, and to see Saudi women driving – all the way to Israel.

If you predicted one year ago that America would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Saudi Arabia would allow women to drive, and Avi Gabbay would become Labor Party leader, most people would consider you crazy.

All this actually happened, which tells you something about the perils of predicting political and diplomatic developments.

Nevertheless, many of my forecasts for 2017 were accurate: That President Trump would make a move regarding Jerusalem and that he would begin to cut the UN down to size; that Prime Minister Netanyahu would overcome his investigations and survive another year in office (– a prediction that I am not prepared to confidently make again for this year); and that, despite his repeated threats to resign, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas would cling to his perch to keep his $3 billion corrupt “authority” afloat. (Here again, I’m less certain about the coming year).

I wrongly predicted that Ron Huldai would become Labor leader, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin would peel away from the Iranians in Syria.

So with the disclaimer that I could be wrong again at the end of the coming year, here is what I see when looking into my crystal ball for 2018:

Elections: Israel will go to the polls either in May/June of this year, or in spring 2019. I am betting on the later date. These are the two windows for a race, and the timing depends on three factors: the pace of investigations against Netanyahu, an American decision to place an aggressive peace plan on the table, and the ability of the governing coalition to get together on a 2019 budget plan, on Shabbat laws, and on another Haredi draft law. (Nationwide municipal elections in November make a fall race impossible).

Netanyahu should get a big boost in public opinion from the big 70th anniversary Yom Haatzmut celebrations in April. Surrounded by world leaders and much pomp and ceremony, he will be at his diplomatic best. Going to the polls shortly afterwards makes some sense, but if the buzz about supposed government “corruption” continues, he’d best buy for time.

Leadership: Looking farther ahead, we are facing leadership crises on many fronts. What happens to Likud after Netanyahu; to the PA after Abbas; to Haredi community leadership writ large after the passing of Rabbi A.Y.L. Steinman? Or, when Moshe Kachlon, Bogi Yaalon, and Aryeh Deri all bomb-out in the next elections?

(Actually, disintegration of Deri’s Shas party – which is a real possibility if Eli Yishai’s counter-Shas Yachad party wins big in the municipal elections – wouldn’t be a tragedy).

War: All of Israel’s fronts are highly volatile. Hezbollah has gained substantial operational experience in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; Iran is digging in north of the Golan; Hamas is inciting terror in the West Bank; and ISIS is gaining strength in Sinai. The IDF chief of staff warned this week that Israel holds reduced margins of error along its borders.

Nevertheless, I hope and pray that I’m right in predicting no wars this summer, for two reasons. Russian military and political entrenchment in Syria should temper Iran and Hezbollah’s shenanigans, especially as Russia’s economic investment in Syrian reconstruction grows. Putin’s dominance of the region also limits Israel’s operational maneuverability, but in the short term this may be a fine deal.

Then there is the FIFA World Cup (Mondial) in June-July in Russia. This is not a good time for the Arabs to go to war with Israel, because they won’t get any international television attention for their inevitable claims of disproportionate Israeli force.

Turkey: Despite President Erdogan’s anti-Semitic views, his pretensions for leadership of the global Moslem Brotherhood camp, and his slide away from the West and towards Iran, Turkey will not cut diplomatic relations with Israel.

Israel cannot let Erdogan’s attacks slide, and must thwart Erdogan’s support for Hamas and for radical Islamic institutions in eastern Jerusalem. But Israel must differentiate between Turkish society and its popular but problematic leader; and keep all of its options open.

Only half of all Turks voted for Erdogan in the last elections, and one day those tens of thousands of Turkish leaders who have been imprisoned by Erdogan (– there are more academics, journalists and generals in jail in Turkey today than in China!) will be back to reclaim the country. Inshallah.

Europe: Federica Mogherini, the “High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” will continue to babble and bluster and condemn and threaten every time Israel builds a porch in “occupied Jerusalem” or it dismantles one of those brazenly-illegal EU-built settlements for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. (The explicit EU intent is to erode Israeli control of Areas C and eastern Jerusalem while promoting Palestinian territorial continuity leading to runaway Palestinian statehood).

But you can be sure that High Representative Mogherini will continue to be highly and scrupulously silent when it comes to political and human rights in Iran. It’s been a week since brave Iranians have taken to the street en masse to protest the foreign and domestic policies of the mullahs, but Mogherini hasn’t tweeted a word of support. Doing so might endanger all the big fat commercial contracts that European counties are racing to secure from the Ayatollahs.

Jerusalem: The Knesset this week passed the “Jerusalem Law” with a trapdoor allowing for the disengagement of neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier (like Kafr Akab and Shuafat) from the Jerusalem municipality, in accordance with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin’s plan.

But I’m betting that Netanyahu won’t go for this, since the domino theory will apply to such a move. The shift in municipal status would become a slippery slope, leading towards broader political division of the city – and that’s precisely what the main body of the law was meant to block.

Dreams: I hope that this year Saudi women will get in their cars, and drive all the way to Israel; and that Riyadh’s bold new leader, 32-year old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will follow them. He can hitch a ride with the women, or fly over in one of his royal jets.

I dream that after three decades of delay, Israel will finally begin building in E-1, the most socially and strategically necessary expansion of Jerusalem – with Trump administration approval.

I further hope that when Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resume under American pressure (– and yes, Abbas inexorably will bow to American pressure to cooperate), Trump and Netanyahu will put issues like immediate Palestinian refugee resettlement outside of Israel, and the sharing of prayer rights on the Temple Mount plaza, at the top of the agenda.

These issues go to the heart of Palestinian rejectionism. The demand for a “right” of refugee return to pre-67 Israel, and the insistence on Moslem-only prayer on Har HaBayit, amount to Palestinian insistence on achieving what is not negotiable: Israel’s delegitimization and disappearance.

Perhaps even the Reform and Conservative movements will join the struggle, and demand egalitarian prayer space on the plaza most holy to the Jewish people. Halevai.

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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