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A Tale of Two Elections by Steve Kramer
A strong link exists between Israel and the US, personified by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump. Therefore there is linkage between the two ongoing leadership contests. Although Israel had enjoyed non-partisan support in the US for decades, that diminished rapidly under the Obama administration. In fact, as a last parting shot, President Obama ordered his ambassador to the United Nations to refrain from vetoing a particularly nasty Security Council Resolution (2344), which basically declares that Jerusalem and Israel’s heritage is Muslim/Palestinian, not Jewish.
The Trump administration took the opposite tack. It has supported Israel to the utmost and more, enforcing the 1995 Congressional law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The danger is that Israel has become, and will remain, a partisan issue, instead of enjoying full support from both parties. For example, Bernie Sanders is an avowed anti-Zionist, who, if elected President, would act to reverse many of the excellent and realistic decisions made by the current administration. This ping-pong effect must be avoided at all costs.
Israelis and Americans both made significant choices this week, Israel’s third election and Super Tuesday, one day after the other. In Israel, the sitting prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, pulled off a victory – but not one that guarantees a stable coalition. If he fails to assemble a majority of Members of Knesset (61 MKs), which has occurred twice, then yet another (fourth) election will be required.
In the US, Super Tuesday has signaled the revitalized of Joe Biden. Although Bernie Sanders had pulled ahead in the last month, Biden’s resounding victory in South Carolina brought him a much more significant triumph in the Super Tuesday primaries, the lead in the delegate race to the nomination. Bernie, 78, despite his heart attack appears relatively healthy, sharp, and energetic. Biden, aged 77, displays little energy and is prone to making bloopers whenever he opens his mouth. This contest will culminate in July at the Democratic party convention in Milwaukee.
Let’s not forget Elizabeth Warren, just 70. Warren, although intelligent, energetic, and the only woman left standing, has underperformed at winning votes. Warren’s long term strategy may be to stay in the race until the convention, then sweep to victory in the disarray of a brokered convention. Her dropping out is probably imminent. (If there is no candidate with a majority on the first convention ballot, delegates are released to vote for whomever they please on subsequent ballots.) It is doubtful that she will have the money and the will to continue much longer, especially because she came in third in her home state of Massachusetts.
Israel’s recent election result is similar to its two other elections within within twelve months. Election fatigue has set in. There are very few voters, not to mention the politicians themselves, who want to go through this process yet again. (Incredibly, 70% voter participation was achieved.)
Attempting to gain defectors from the center or left may be the best bet for Netanyahu. There are at least four or five candidates who might be persuaded to join the Likud party, giving it a majority. A unity government between the largest parties, Likud and Blue and White, is less likely given the promises made by the two major parties. Hopefully, compromises to enable a stable government will be made.
If an Israeli government is formed, we can expect the imminent expansion of Israeli law to areas beyond the 1949 armistice line, in accord with the maps being drawn up to define the Trump plan’s border lines. Perhaps this same result will occur if the current caretaker government remains, awaiting a fourth election. If the Israeli Supreme Court were called on to validate such a move, it might hesitate to reject it, given the approval Netanyahu received from the electorate, while he stands indicted of several offenses and will soon be defending himself in court.
If Israeli political uncertainty continues and Bernie Sanders is the Democratic presidential nominee, it will be Israel’s worst case scenario. But the Republicans have the advantage of the presidential incumbency and a prolonged dogfight between the Democratic contenders. For the next four months, the candidates will be pounding each other more than denigrating Trump, taking attention away from the party’s platform. The best scenario for Israel is that both Trump and Netanyahu are victorious.
We don’t know whether Netanyahu can form a government, whether he will be found guilty, who will be the Democratic presidential candidate, or whether President Trump will win a second term. As someone recently said, “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”