12 December 2011

Is Likud Getting Ready to Deal?

I stumbled upon a news items the other day. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu called a snap leadership election within Likud.
The Likud charter requires party leadership votes to take place at least six months before national elections.
Since Israeli general elections are scheduled for November 2013, this is way too early for Netanyahu to ask for a vote on his leadership. Consequently, people began asking questions:
Hanan Krystal, Israel Radio's political analyst, said Netanyahu might also opt to bring forward the next Israeli general election, due in November 2013, should Obama look likely to beat Republican rivals in the U.S. ballot. (...)

"At the highest echelons, they have long been saying that if Obama is elected for a second term, the carrot will be replaced by a stick," Krystal said. 
"In other words, the election of Netanyahu in January or February to head the Likud allows him to bring the (general) election forward in accordance with Obama's prospects, which are currently good," he said, adding that, if rescheduled, the national ballot would likely be held in mid-2012.
After the US elections a more vigorous push might become the norm but I think that push has already started. In a widely publicized recent speech Defense Secretary Panetta said that "Israel must get to the damn peace table"
He said Israel needed to take risks, including by breathing new life into moribund peace talks with Palestinians. When asked by a moderator what steps Israel needed to take to pursue peace, Panetta said: "Just get to the damn table." 
"The problem right now is we can't get 'em to the damn table, to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences," Panetta said.
These are very strong words from any American senior politicians and certainly a first from a Defense Secretary. Panetta also urged Israel to end its isolation by cooperating with regional players:
Panetta suggested that Israel reach out and mend fences with countries like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan which "share an interest in regional stability." 
Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize Israel, in 1949, but relations worsened last year when Israeli commandos boarded an aid flotilla challenging a naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave of Gaza and killing nine Turks in ensuing clashes. 
"It is in Israel's interest, Turkey's interest, and U.S. interest for Israel to reconcile with Turkey, and both Turkey and Israel need to do more to put their relationship back on track," Panetta said.
Notice the emphasis on Turkey. It is not an Arab country, it is not an immediate neighbor of Israel and yet the US Secretary of Defense singles it out as Israel's primary interlocutor. You know my views on why that is the case.

My guess is that Netanyahu is not just getting ready for Obama's second term. He is also getting ready for a likely fracture in his coalition in the near future. Lieberman is dogged by a corruption investigation which could bring him down. Also:
Another powerful coalition partner, Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Orthodox Jewish party Shas, has been dogged by allegations of mismanaging a forest fire in northern Israel last year. A state audit on the affair is due out within months.
At the time of the Mount Carmel fire outside Haifa people called for his resignation (especially after he blamed the dead police chief) and if the audit finds him responsible he might not be able to remain in government.

In other words, it is rather likely that Netanyahu will call general elections in mid 2012.

If he wins, as expected and if my working hypothesis is correct, he will reach out to less conservative parties like Kadima for a national unity coalition. This way, they can sit at the "damn" table to bring a reasonable solution to that festering problem.

After months of playing hardball (withholding tax revenues after the UNESCO membership or announcing new settlements) Likud seems to have changed its tune. First they decided to release the tax funds and yesterday they called upon Palestinians to start negotiations ahead of the visit of the envoys of the Quartet.

And when they were rebuffed, very uncharacteristically for Likud, they complained about it loudly and publicly.

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