March's AIPAC conference could influence next Israeli election date

Trips abroad play to Netanyahu's strengths, and trips to Washington these days – in the era of a friendly and supportive president – even more so.

November 14, 2018 17:32
3 minute read.
March's AIPAC conference could influence next Israeli election date

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes the stage to speak at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, US, March 6, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)


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Following Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s bombshell resignation on Wednesday, there will be endless speculation in the coming days about when an election will be held.

Liberman, as he said clearly at his news conference, would like to see it held as soon as possible. His reasoning is simple. He framed his resignation as a principled one, born of disagreements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government over what he claimed were its soft policies toward Hamas in Gaza. As such, he wants to go to the polls before the trauma of the last few days – indeed the last few months of terrorism from Gaza – recedes in people’s minds.

Going to an election sooner rather than later would also catch fledgling parties – such as one that may include former chief of staff Benny Gantz – off guard and not yet fully prepared to battle a national campaign.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, would like to wait a little longer, until the events of the past weekend are forgotten, overtaken by other news that he can help shape. According to the law, elections need to be held on the Tuesday before the 90th day after the Knesset dissolves itself. That means that were the Knesset to dissolve itself on Monday, the elections would be held on February 19.

In looking at different calculations behind choosing a time for a new election, there is one important date that stands out sharpest in Netanyahu’s mind: March 24, actually, March 24- March 26, the dates of next year’s annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington.

Netanyahu loves that event. He attends and addresses the annual policy conference almost every year, and speaks to it by live hookup on those rare occasions when he is unable to attend. He is always very warmly received at the AIPAC parley, and gives a rousing address covered live in Israel. It is Netanyahu doing what he does best: presenting Israel’s cause on the big stage.

The AIPAC parley does something else as well: it affords the prime minister a reason to be in Washington. Once there, he will, of course, meet the US president, and with Donald Trump – unlike Trump’s predecessor – Netanyahu will receive a warm embrace.

Both those elements – a rousing reception by 18,000 people to a powerful speech on a big stage, and a bear hug from the president – are things that Netanyahu would love to have his domestic audience witness just prior to an election.

Sound familiar?

The previous election to the Knesset took place on March 17, 2015. On March 2 of that year, Netanyahu addressed AIPAC, and on March 3 he gave his controversial speech against the Iranian nuclear deal to a special joint session of Congress. Then-president Barack Obama, his secretary of state John Kerry and some Democrats may have resented the prime minister for it, but this played very well among Netanyahu’s base in Israel, and he swept to election victory two weeks later.

Trips abroad play to Netanyahu’s strengths, and trips to Washington these days – in the era of a friendly and supportive president – even more so. These trips frame Netanyahu as the quintessential statesman. The optics of the prime minister addressing AIPAC and then sitting in the Oval Office next to a warm and supportive US president can only help him at the polls back home.

So when Netanyahu and his political advisers look at the calendar for that ideal day on which to hold the election, March 24 is a date that stands out. Ideally, they would like to go to the polls just a week or two after that.

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