US election won't impact Israel peacemaking

Critics of Obama inside Netanyahu’s inner circle discount view that likely reversals in next week’s US midterms will benefit PMO’s position.

Obama at UN 2010 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama at UN 2010 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The US is bracing for a political upheaval on Tuesday when the Republicans are expected to win back control of Congress in what is seen as a protest vote against the policies and performance of President Barack Obama.
Critics of Obama inside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s inner circle cautioned this week against seeing the Democrats’ likely defeat as a victory for Israel. They said they were fully aware that losing control over Congress may tie the president’s hands on domestic issues, but that when it comes to foreign policy, Obama will likely remain unshackled, unreconstructed and perhaps more determined than ever to pressure Israel into a deal with the Palestinians.
So if nothing is expected to change on Wednesday morning, why has local politics been in such a holding pattern ahead of the American election?
Because with all due respect to the storm in a teacup over stipends for kollel students, when it comes to coalition politics, it takes diplomatic issues to really rock the boat – or in this case, Barack the boat. As long as efforts to revive the diplomatic process are on hold until after the election, so is any real political tension over here.
Obama would undoubtedly prefer it if Netanyahu were to throw out his coalition partners on the Right and build a new government with Kadima. He hinted as such when he singled out Interior Minister Eli Yishai as an obstacle to peace following the Ramat Shlomo building project controversy in a TV interview that Shas has said would be featured prominently in its next campaign.
But despite constant speculation and wishful thinking on the part of some, a partnership between Netanyahu and his nemesis, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, remains extremely unlikely. It is more possible that missteps in Washington or the West Bank that could prevent the peace process from moving forward would result in Labor leaving and being replaced by the far-right National Union, which would give Netanyahu a very stable, 65-MK, right-wing coalition and a lot more headaches in his dealings with the impatient international community.
THE HEADLINE, “Between Barack and a hard place,” that has been used in this newspaper and others still best describes Netanyahu’s political reality.
The main threat to his coalition still comes from the Left. Labor leadership candidate Avishay Braverman, who is the main threat to quit the coalition, has said that it is Obama who is keeping the government together by maintaining pressure on Netanyahu and the Palestinians to keep doing whatever is necessary to advance the peace process.
Or in other words, the coalition is “solid as Barack.”
It is also extremely important to Netanyahu to keep Labor in the government and satisfied, because of the centrist fig leaf provided by Labor chairman Ehud Barak and because he wants to keep Barak, his former commander in the IDF, in the Defense Ministry ahead of key decisions on Iran.
The counterweight on the right to Barak and Barack has thus far come not from any of the right-wing politicians in the coalition but from the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip under the savvy leadership of Dani Dayan and Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Naftali Bennett.
The new Israeli Tea Party movement that will be launched at a rally Sunday night at Tel Aviv’s ZOA House will attempt to mobilize the grassroots against a further settlement freeze in an additional counterbalance to Barack.
While the 15-MK Israel Beiteinu faction could bring down the government, party chairman Avigdor Lieberman has no interest in doing that when his political fate is expected to be decided by Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein in the coming months. Lieberman said at a press conference this month that he expected the government to complete its term, which is set to end on October 22, 2013. Israel Beiteinu and Shas have both already said they would remain in the coalition even if a construction moratorium in Judea and Samaria is renewed. Habayit Hayehudi would likely do the same as long as the freeze is framed in the proper context. No Likud ministers are hurrying to quit either.
The goal that aides to Netanyahu and Obama have quietly been working on achieving behind the scenes has been to find an arrangement that would enable Netanyahu to renew the freeze without losing his credibility and without allowing the Palestinian leadership to continue to avoid coming to the negotiating table.
If they succeed at finding what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week called the “magic formula,” the talks could take place behind closed doors and if there are no leaks, Netanyahu’s coalition could enter a period of stability that could last until either a breakthrough or a breakdown is announced.
That’s what could happen after Tuesday’s election if everyone cooperates. Between now and then, Netanyahu can relax for one more weekend.
Then he will have to be ready to Barack and roll.