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BIBI'S COMEBACK = U.S. REASSESSMENT

Batten down the hatches!

It was not long in coming. U.S. President Barack Obama is about to conduct a reassessment of his already hostile approach to Israel's newly elected prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu.

Benyamin Netanyahu (photo: Facebook)

 What is on the line is America's three billion dollar grant in military aid for Israel to buy American made weapons, and political support in world forums such as the United Nations. Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, have already brushed aside Bibi's dire warnings about a nuclear deal with Iran that is now being forged with the Iranians, who are squeezing out every last concession from Washington with the goal of leaving their formidable nuclear weapons potential intact for a future break out. This will occur probably after Obama kisses good-by to the White House and Tehran has rebuilt its failing economy as a result of the current international sanctions. 

 Netanyahu has again angered Obama by his election in the final days of the election campaign by declaring that the current reality (of the Islamic State threat moving closer to Israel's borders on the Golan Heights and Jordanian border) rules out any new Israeli territorial withdrawals. Obviously, Bibi made the declaration to attract Right wing voters, which it did. But it is being interpreted as Netanyahu's rejection of his former declared position in support of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (In fact, Israel does have a case. Israeli evacuations of Gaza and southern Lebanon have led to rapid takeovers by Hamas and Hezbollah and the ensuing terror attacks.)

 

 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has boycotted peace talks with Israel, has jumped on the bandwagon by declaring that Bibi's statement reveals there is no Israeli peace partner. Abbas can be counted on to parley Bibi's victory into stepping up his diplomatic intifada against Israel at the UN and elsewhere. Now the question is whether the U.S. will use its political clout and veto in the UN Security Council to bail out Israel's already sagging diplomatic standing. Reacting to the somber warning from the White House, Likud Cabinet Minister Gilad Arden, who is in the running for foreign minister in Bibi's new cabinet, has responded by saying:

"The Americans should also supply some answers to Israel's security worries that have been expressed by Netanyahu. But let's hope for the turning of a new page and that it is not filled with threats."

 

 In the Opposition, Labor's Omer Bar Lev told Israel Radio:

"Washington's frosty reception to Netanyahu's victory is not surprising in light of Bibi's speech to the U.S. Congress and his latest statement about the Palestinian issue, which it takes seriously."

 

 After his stunning comeback, after the polls had predicted an upset by the Left wing Yitzhak Herzog, Bibi is now in the process of forming a new strong 'national' coalition that is expected to be composed of the new party set up by Moshe Kahlon, who split from the Likud over its failed economic policy which he branded as 'piggish capitalism' that lead to soaring housing prices and cost of living. Kahlon is a shoo-in for finance minister - Netanyahu even offered it to him during the election campaign regardless of how many seats Kahlon won. The far Right Jewish Home is also expected to return to the cabinet as well as the religious parties and Lieberman's Russian immigrant party for a grand total of 66 in the 120-member Knesset.

 

 What happened?

 'Bibi is a magician!' - that's how ecstatic Likudniks cheered Bibi at his campaign celebration when it became clear the polls predicting a Herzog victory had not panned out. On the contrary, Netanyahu had routed the intellectual elite as represented by the pollsters and the media. Single-handedly he had launched an all-out 'whistle stop' in the final days of the campaign and rallied dissatisfied supporters mainly in the populated Mizrachi areas. He warned that the Left wing Herzog and Livni were about to win. Moreover on election day, he warned that Israeli Arabs, who had formed a unified party for the first time, were turning out in droves to vote. His appeal fell on receptive ears.

 

 Another incident had already added fuel to the flames. A far Left activist, an Ashkenazi, had addressed a Left wing peace rally in Tel Aviv launching a vitriolic attack on Mizrachi Israelis. Charging that they tend to be religious who observe primitive religious practices yet they rule the state by voting in the Likud time after time. Although Netanyahu himself is an Ashkenazi, as are most of the Likud ministers, he played the race card to the hilt, and it paid off. The fact that the pollsters had predicted a Herzog victory had also jolted the Likud base into action despite Netanyahu's abysmal handling of the economy.

 

 It must also be said that Herzog failed to match Bibi's last minute surge on the campaign trail. For example, he could have promised to halt the disproportional allocation of funding to the settlements in Judea and Samaria and diverted this money to the poorer communities. Why did he not do it? Probably because Herzog kept saying he wanted to unite and not divide the Israeli people. But when you're up against a tough campaigner like Bibi, who knows what the far Right wants to hear then, as the saying goes: 'Nice guys don't win!'

 

 During most of the campaign Herzog had succeeded in shifting the key issue to: It's the economy stupid'. But he didn't know how to close the deal. In the final days, Bibi roared back and jolted the Right wing into backing him as the best candidate to face up to a nuclear Iran, Islamic State and the Palestinians.

 And that is why Israel is still reeling from the election outcome. The Right wing is euphoric about Bibi's comeback, while the Left and Center are finding it hard to swallow, what they feel, is a very bitter pill.

 

 

 David Essing

 

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