Election fever

Israel and the US will experience election fever practically simultaneously.

Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390
(photo credit: 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.
Also, Netanyahu 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 risk.
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.