Israel and the US will experience election fever practically simultaneously.
Netanyahu and Obama at the White House. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO
Though an official decision has been postponed due to the death of Prof. Benzion
Netanyahu, it appears that Prime Minister Binyamin is set on moving up elections
to this year instead of next.
As a result, Israel and the US will
experience election fever practically simultaneously.
At first blush,
there are few parallels between the two elections. In the US, the presidential
race is a well-planned affair that occurs like clockwork every four years. And
President Barack Obama has no control over the November 6 date. In
Israel, a country with a rowdy political scene and a culture that prides itself
on improvisation, the elections for the 19th Knesset came – as should be
expected – as a complete surprise.
Also, though Obama’s job approval
rating has slowly but steadily improved since bottoming out last year, he has
not managed to consistently score above 50 percent, according to Gallup polls.
As a result, Obama has yet to establish his certainty of being reelected over
Mitt Romney, a moderate Republican with the potential to draw votes from both
Independents and Democrats.
In contrast, judging from recent polls,
Netanyahu faces no serious challenge. A survey conducted by Smith Research for
The Jerusalem Post’s New York conference found that the Likud would receive 31
Knesset seats if elections were held in April, more than double the 15 each for
Labor and Yisrael Beytenu, the next largest parties, and 13 for Kadima, which is
presently the largest party with 28 Knesset seats. And in a Haaretz-Dialog poll,
48% of respondents said Netanyahu was the best suited to be prime minister.
Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich was a distant second at 15%.
Indeed, the prime
minister’s desire to cash in on his current popularity and not risk a future
drop in the public’s confidence was a major factor in his decision to call early
elections. He will have to cope with this summer’s inevitable socioeconomic
protests immediately before the vote. But he will do so at a time when the
Israeli economy is still relatively strong and not yet too badly affected by
economic downturns in Europe and America. Obama, in contrast, will be
trying to convince American voters of the efficacy of his policies at a time
when the US economy is undergoing a major slowdown.
But some parallels
can be drawn between the US and Israeli elections, particularly with regard to
Iran. Neither Obama nor Netanyahu is interested in launching a military strike
that could easily deteriorate into a messy regional conflict on the eve of
elections. This is particularly true considering that the P5+1 talks between the
big powers and Iran are still being conducted. And Obama continues and probably
will continue to indicate publicly until the November elections that
negotiations are making headway, whether they are or not.
appears to be interested in consolidating his strength at home before Obama’s
possible reelection. On the Right and on the Left, respectively, many fear or
hope that Obama will renew pressure on Israel to resolve the conflict with the
Palestinians. If such pressure had been brought to bear against Netanyahu ahead
of Israeli elections being held as scheduled in 2013, the ensuing deterioration
in relations with Washington could have hurt Netanyahu. Bill Clinton, fed up
with Netanyahu’s settlement policies, sent out messages of US dissatisfaction in
an effort to help Ehud Barak defeat Netanyahu in the 1999 elections. By
calling for early elections now, Netanyahu, who has amply shown he has learned
the lessons from his previous stint as prime minister, will sidestep this
Regardless of the outcome of either election, however, we expect
relations with the US to continue to flourish. The countries stand for common
ideals and values. And this is reflected in the US’s unshakable support for the
Jewish state even at times when there is disagreement on specific policies.