(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The country will be going back to the polls on March 17, and – obviously – Israelis will not be the only ones trying to influence the outcome of elections that will surely impact the region and beyond.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was asked on Tuesday soon after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, paving the way for elections, for his take on the developments.
“I simply don’t comment on the internal politics of any country, and certainly not of a change in personnel within the government of Israel,” Kerry said. “Israel is our partner and ally and friend, and we will continue to support Israel in the same ways that we have previously.”
He said he hoped the “elections will produce the possibility of a government that can negotiate and move toward resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians, and obviously, the differences in the region.”
His comments, and the bulk of comments coming from Washington over the next few months regarding Netanyahu, need now to be seen within the context of trying to influence the Israeli electorate.
For instance, in the week before the last elections in January 2013, US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg – a constant critic of Netanyahu – quoted US President Barack Obama as saying privately that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”
Last month, Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, quoted a senior US official as calling Netanyahu a “chickenshit,” and it will not be surprising if in the run-up to the March elections other names will be used by various administration officials to slam the prime minister in an effort to impact Israeli voters.
Aaron David Miller, who for more than two decades worked in the State Department on Israeli-Arab issues, said it “clearly isn’t true” that the US doesn’t intervene in Israeli politics, or Israel doesn’t intervene in America’s.
Netanyahu was widely perceived as having backed Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 US presidential race.
“I was a firsthand witness in 1991 [prior to the June 1992 elections] and again in 1996 when Washington did try to influence the outcome – the first time with some success, the second time with none,” Miller wrote on the Foreign Policy website.
According to Miller, the first time was when president George H.W. Bush’s administration denied Israeli housing-loan guarantees because of Israeli settlement activity, but granted them to Yitzhak Rabin once he became prime minister.
“While this occurred well before the election was even scheduled, part of the reason [Likud leader Yitzhak] Shamir lost was because of the perception that he had mismanaged the US-Israel relationship, and this started long before the campaigning even began,” he said.
The second time Miller witnessed US attempts to influence the outcome was in 1996, when Netanyahu ran against Shimon Peres.
“Then the United States tried to help Peres by deploying the most popular man in Israel – president Bill Clinton – to the Summit of the Peacemakers in Egypt in 1996 at which many Arab heads of state were also present,” he wrote. “The point was to show that Peres had credibility, was a friend of Clinton, and could manage the United States and the Arabs during tough times.”
That didn’t work, Miller added, most likely because “Peres didn’t run a good campaign and because Israeli Arabs stayed away from the polls as a result of Israeli policies in Lebanon.”
The US, obviously is not the only party interested in trying to impact on the results.
Israel Radio’s Palestinian Affairs reporter Gal Berger posted on Facebook that a source in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said that the coming elections can “be an opportunity for the people in Israel to understand where the current government with its right-wing composition has taken it.”
Berger quoted the source as saying this could be a “new page,” or the Israeli public could “commit the same mistake.”