Politics: Sixteen predictions for 2016

Gil Hoffman gazes into the crystal ball in Israel, the region and beyond.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
December 31, 2015 20:03
New Year's Eve

Confetti flies around the New Year's Eve Ball Drop, after midnight ,during New Year's eve celebrations in Times Square, New York January 1, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Jerusalem Post has an entire supplement looking back at 2015 with contributions from its top writers and editors. But it is much harder to look forward, especially in such an unpredictable region.

After a year in which baseball legend and philosopher Yogi Berra died, it is safe to say that he was not the first one who came up with the immortal quote, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But it is no less true.

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Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming risk of looking extremely foolish throughout the year ahead, the following are 16 predictions for 2016:

1. Removal of sanctions makes no difference to Iranians

An international community eager to implement the historic deal it reached with the Islamic Republic in July will not look too closely into whether Iran abided by its commitments, which are the prerequisite for sanctions removal.

The sanctions will be removed.

Money will flow into Iran. European companies will rush to do business with Iran. But the lives of ordinary Iranians will not get better.

The bulk of the money that will reach Iran will be spent abroad on boosting international terrorism, not just against Israel but also targeting the P5+1 countries that brokered the deal.

2. The Middle East spreads around the world

An international community that did not make much of an effort to end violence in the Middle East will see continued global exports of Middle Eastern terrorism.

Tactics used by Palestinian terrorists against Israel will continue to be adopted by jihadi elements abroad.

Countries that condemned Israel for responding “disproportionately” to stabbings, shootings and vehicular terrorism will face stabbings, shootings, and vehicular terrorism.

Islamic State and al-Qaida will be joined by other terrorist groups eager to spread jihad. Syrian refugees will be particularly active in terrorist attacks in Europe and perhaps even in Canada.

3. Syrian civil war intensifies

With Russia and a coalition led by the United States becoming more involved by air, the Syrian death toll, which has passed a quarter million, will continue to rise.

The United States and Russia will criticize each other. But Islamic State will endure, and thanks to Russia, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad will, too.

There will be constant news in 2016 on attempts to broker a cease-fire to end the fighting. But the talks will not bear fruit.

4. Putin’s power progresses

Russian president Vladimir Putin will continue to flex his muscles throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

He enjoys 80 percent popularity in his country, where a 2016 calendar featuring pictures and quotes from the president is reportedly a big hit.

Around the world, in the absence of leadership, there is no one to stop him from spreading his influence and promoting his agenda.

5. Poor health forces Abbas out of office

Decades of chain-smoking and stress will finally get to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will leave his people behind with many self-proclaimed natural successors and no closer to a state than they were in 2005 when he was elected to the fouryear term that will enter its 12th year next week.

The Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh has reported on how the current wave of Palestinian violence has come as a result of Abbas’s desire to prevent a leadership battle. A conference that could have picked a successor to Abbas inside his Fatah party has been postponed, due to the “defiling of al-Aksa” by Jewish “filthy feet,” which Abbas complained about in September, sparking the violence.

Everyone from jailed murderer Marwan Barghouti to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, from failed peace negotiator Saeb Erekat to Abbas’s son Yasser, could make an effort to become Abbas’s successor. But first there will be months of chaos.

During the transition period, pressure from the world on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians will not abide. When a new leader is in place, that pressure will intensify.

6. No elections initiated in Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will get reelected as leader of the Likud in an uncontested primary on February 23. Even without competition, a third of the eligible electorate in the Likud central committee will still come vote, surpassing the turnout in some Western elections, including the 2015 Chicago mayoral race.

Despite predictions that Netanyahu’s government will fall apart in 2016, it will stay together. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will pass another state budget, keeping Netanyahu’s razor-thin 61-59 majority intact.

There will be constant stress in the Knesset, and at times the coalition will lose. But on matters Netanyahu cares about, he will still find a way to advance his agenda.

7. Herzog delays primary in Labor

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog was supposed to announce a date for the next Labor Party leadership race by now, but he has repeatedly delayed making a decision.

The race must be held by May 2016 according to the party constitution. There had been some talk in Labor about Herzog moving up the race to catch potential opponents off guard, but it is too late for that, and he is too nice a guy to do that.

After Netanyahu announced he was advancing his party’s primary, Herzog declared that he ordered his party’s staff to prepare for a general election. The fact that he did not say anything about preparing a primary for Labor leader shows he’s not going anywhere.

The most likely scenario is that Herzog succeeds in changing the Labor constitution and postponing the primary to sometime in 2017, with the blessing of other potential future candidates who want to challenge him.

8. Benny Gantz enters politics

When the Post made predictions ahead of 2012, it wrote the following about then-journalist Yair Lapid: “The Center- Left will not allow Lapid’s charisma and star power to remain on the sidelines in the next election. His genuine desire to fix the country’s wrongs about which he writes in Yediot Aharonot’s top column will cause him to take the political plunge.”

The same can be said now about the IDF’s 20th chief of staff. There is a threeyear cooling-off period for former senior security officials that has prevented past IDF chiefs from entering politics, but a report in the Post’s Hebrew sister publication Maariv Sof Hashavua found a loophole allowing him to run, and that loophole will be exploited.

Gantz has not ruled out entering politics, though he has not exactly hinted he is interested in a political career. By the end of 2016, the calls for the Center-Left to be led by an untainted security figure to defeat Netanyahu will intensify. Gantz will give in and announce his interest in leading the bloc.

9. Indictment for Sara, Deri or Liberman

After 2015 ended with Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, facing questions by the national fraud squad about her handling of her household expenses, she could be the biggest name in the legal headlines in 2016.

There are plenty of people with axes to grind against both Netanyahus, who are giddily eager to testify against them. The plausible deniability that the prime minister knew about alleged corruption will keep him untainted, but Sara will have a tougher time fighting the charges than she thinks.

Then again, police probes are like rock and roll. The classics will always be the best.

So don’t be surprised if Shas leader Arye Deri’s decision to return to the Interior Ministry, which led to a bribery conviction last time, backfires again. And you can never count out an investigation of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose closest confidants are embroiled in major legal trouble.

All it takes is one of them to turn on him.

10. Olmert’s sentence lengthened again

The news this week was that the Supreme Court decided to shorten former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s sentence from six years to one-and-a-half. Olmert declared victory and said that a “great rock” had been removed from his heart.

But he spoke too soon.

Olmert still has an appeal pending on his eight-month prison sentence from the Talansky retrial in the case that he pocketed money from an American supporter.

And his former secretary Shula Zaken has implicated him in multiple cases.

His legal saga will be far from over when he becomes the first prime minister to enter prison on February 15, joining former president Moshe Katsav.

11. Katsav goes home but more harassers follow in his footsteps

Katsav began serving a seven-year prison sentence in December 2011, which means he is supposed to be released only in December 2018.

But in Israel it is considered standard for convicts to leave prison when a third of their sentence remains, as long as they had good behavior. That means Katsav will apparently go home to Kiryat Malachi in July.

Meanwhile, there could be a full-fledged investigation of former minister Silvan Shalom, who resigned last month due to allegations of sexual misconduct. After Shalom and former Bayit Yehudi faction head Yinon Magal were forced to leave the parliament, there is an appetite to bring down alleged sexual harassers.

It is a safe prediction that at least one more MK will be forced to leave the Knesset for those reasons in 2016.

12. Hillary Clinton elected US president

America had its first Black president in Barack Obama. Now enough Americans will decide that there should be a woman president to carry her to the White House.

Had the Republicans been able to unite behind a strong leader who could attract centrist voters, Clinton could have been defeated. But the ragtag bunch of candidates who have been attacking one another in Republican debates will fail to impress undecided voters.

It doesn’t matter if the Republican candidate will end up being Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. (It won’t be Donald Trump.) The GOP will not succeed in attracting enough support to win.

13. Obama selected as UN secretary- general

The idea started among Conservative critics of Obama who didn’t like his “leading from behind” approach to foreign policy and his deference to the United Nations.

But when the time comes to choose a replacement for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Obama will like the idea.

Ban Ki-moon’s term as the eighth secretary- general will conclude on December 31, 2016, just in time for Obama to take over the following month.

Traditionally, candidates from the permanent five members of the Security Council are not considered for the top post, to avoid further concentration of power within the UN. But that and regional rotations are mere tradition and precedent, not rules.

Technically, it’s Eastern Europe’s turn to receive the secretary-general job. But if Putin prevents that from happening, the other regions will fight too much.

Obama, who is adored in the UN, will be seen as a fitting solution to the problem.

14. Superstar singer comes to Israel

In 2014, Israel was blessed with concerts by Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga. In 2015, there were sold out shows by Seinfeld, Bon Jovi, and Kanye West.

So far, singers Elton John and Julio Iglesias have announced that they are coming in 2016, both in May.

But Israeli promoters are in touch with the biggest names in the US about being the star performer of the concert scene here next summer.

Whether it ends up being Katy Perry, Britney Spears, or the biggest of the big, Beyoncé, there will be a superstar coming to Israel next summer.

15. LeBron brings victory to Cleveland

From one superstar to another.

The city of Cleveland hasn’t celebrated a major professional sports championship since 1964. Expect that to change in 2016, when LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers to victory over Stephen Curry’s Golden State in a rematch of last year’s NBA championship.

It will be a victory for Israeli coach David Blatt, but all the credit will go to James, who will finally bring joy to northeast Ohio, where he was raised and played for the Cavs before leaving for the warmer pastures of Miami, where he won championships with the Heat.

16. Cubs World Series victory preempts messiah

The biggest championship drought in American sports history will also end in 2016.

The movie Back to the Future II predicted a Chicago Cubs World Series victory in 2015. They came a lot closer than anyone predicted. Now, with a lineup of young star hitters, a staff of effective pitchers and winning manager Joe Maddon, the time has finally come for the Cubbies to go all the way.

There were those who predicted that the messiah and peace in the Middle East would come before a Cubs World Series victory. But the Cubs will speed ahead of the messiah, and as for peace in the Middle East, it is doubtful anyone will be making that prediction any time soon.


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