When Israelis go the polls on March 17 President Obama won’t be on the ballot, but his policies towards Israel will be.
In other words, Israelis are choosing not so much between Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog as they are between Bibi and Barack Obama.
Should Herzog become Israel’s next Prime Minister, it will be in no small part due to former Obama campaign adviser Jeremy Bird, who made his way to the Jewish state for the purpose of unseating Netanyahu. While Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry refused to attend Bibi’s speech to Congress or meet with him during his D.C. trip on the basis that it was too close to the election, they were more than happy to meet with Herzog. As both Aaron David Miller and Charles Krauthammer have pointed out, the Obama administration wants regime change in Israel. If they get it, President Obama will be happiest he’s been since the day he beat John McCain, Mitt Romney, or when he signed Obamacare into law, take your pick.
There are strong indications that Obama might get his wish. Recent polls have shown that the Zionist Camp (the electoral coalition between Herzog’s Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah) will win more seats in the Knesset than Netanyahu’s Likud Party. The Zionist Camp is expected to win 25 seats while Likud is expected to win 21.
It should also be noted the same poll indicates that 49 percent of the electorate would prefer Netanyahu remain Prime Minister while only 36 percent want Herzog. The numbers could trend towards Bibi’s favor, as 14 percent of the Israeli electorate is still undecided. However, this might be of cold comfort to Bibi as Israeli voters no longer vote for the Prime Minister separately as they did when Netanyahu first won the job in 1996.
But even if the Zionist Camp wins more seats than Likud it still will need to cobble together a coalition government and there is no guarantee that will come to pass. Just ask Livni. In the 2009 Israeli elections, Livni led the governing Kadima Party. While Kadima won one more seat than Likud, it was Netanyahu who was asked by then President Shimon Peres to form a government because Peres thought Bibi was in a better position to make it happen. Bibi has been Prime Minister for five years while Kadima is defunct. Although current Israeli President Reuven Rivlin prefers a national unity government between Likud and the Zionist Camp, he has indicated he would follow Peres’ precedent.
However, Bibi might not be so fortunate this time around. As Seth Mandel recently argued in Commentary,Rivlin, although a Likudnik, is no friend of Netanyahu and other ex-Likudniks like Moshe Kahlon, Naftali Bennett, and even former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman might be more inclined to support Herzog than Bibi. If the Zionist Camp does form Israel’s next government, Herzog and Livni have agreed to share the premiership. Herzog would be Prime Minister for two years and then be replaced by Livni. President Obama and John Kerry have both spoken as if there will be a new Israeli Prime Minister by invoking the dead horses that are the peace process and two-state solution.
So will the Obama administration treat Israel any better if the Zionist Camp comes to power? While Herzog is eager to mend fences with the Obama administration, it remains to be seen if the White House will reciprocate. It’s certainly possible that Obama could make nice with Herzog to give appearances that his problem was with Bibi, not with the State of Israel. But it won’t deter Obama from entering into a nuclear agreement with Iran whatever Herzog’s reservations. Obama would also likely pressure Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and make more concessions despite the presence of Hamas. If Israel does something Obama doesn’t like (such as defend itself or build homes), then he or his minions will call the Jewish state out on it regardless of who is in office.
So what’s the difference between Netanyahu and Herzog and, for that matter, Livni? In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu said:
I have great respect for our alliance, even when there are disagreements. When the security needs of Israel require me to take a step that is contrary to what is put forward by the US president, that’s what I’m here for. That’s what a leader of Israel has to do.
This prompted the interviewer to ask Bibi, “Herzog and Livni can’t stand up to Obama?” Netanyahu replied:
They can’t stand up for a second! A millisecond. They have zero leadership. They believe the only thing they have to do is say yes to any demand that comes from the best of our allies, and no, we shouldn’t.
I believe we should do whatever we can to maintain our relations with the US, but we should also know to draw the line when things that could endanger us are on the table like the nuclear deal with Iran, like the insistence that we return to pre-1967 lines and build another “Hamastan,” like the demand we divide Jerusalem. We have to stand up against these things; that’s what the prime minister of Israel is elected for.
People in the US respect a prime minister who stands up for the State of Israel, and you’re not going to get that from Tzipi and Buji (Herzog’s nickname). You will get prime ministers who completely prostrate themselves before any pressure. Not only can’t they stand up to pressure, they don’t want to stand up to the pressure. They just want to yield and give in, because they think that the way to secure our existence is by giving into Arab demands and being less demanding ourselves against the Iranian nuclear program.
For all intents and purposes, if Isaac Herzog becomes Prime Minister he would become Obama’s lapdog.
Remember when Obama complained to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy about Bibi over a hot mic, “You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day.” If Benjamin Netanyahu should survive the election and get a chance to form a new government, it would mean Obama would have to deal with Bibi every day whether he likes it or not. He’ll still pursue a nuclear deal with Iran, but Bibi will still be there. When Obama leaves office, Bibi will still be there.
But if Bibi isn’t there after March 17, who will be left to stand up to President Obama?