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Elections - U.S & Israel

Dr. Martin Indyk: 'Barack Obama identifies with Israel's struggle for survival - support for Jewish state is strong in both Democratic and Republican parties'

IsraCast: 'Netanyahu victory in upcoming Israeli election may not a foregone conclusion'

'Although security may be key issue, Netanyahu could be vulnerable if global economic crisis also batters Israel'

This weekend, the U.S presidential election campaign draws to a close while Israel's gets on their way. In both campaigns, Israel's future will be intertwined in more ways than one. IsraCast looks at the American ballot on November 4th and Israel's poll is now set for February 10th.

It's now official - Israelis will go to the polls on February 10th, while closely following the U.S presidential result. Visiting Israel was Dr. Martin Indyk, a former U.S ambassador for a conference on the Peres Peace Center. Indyk, who supports Barack Obama, tried to allay concerns by some Israelis about the possibility of Obama's entry to the White House. Although Israeli leaders have been very careful to steer clear of any preference in the U.S campaign, some Israelis are worried over an Obama negotiation with Iran - whose President Ahmadinejad has vowed to wipe Israel off the map while he develops nuclear weapons. The Iranians, who have stone-walled the Europeans for years, might then proceed full steam ahead. Remember, the Israeli intelligence estimate is that Iran might acquire the bomb by late 2009 or early 2010.

In an interview with Channel 10, Martin Indyk said Barack Obama identified with Israel's struggle for survival. Moreover, as a black man Obama  understood Israel's exodus from slavery to freedom. In addition, American support for Israel is very strong in both the Democratic and Republican parties. In Indyk's view, American Jews would play an important part in an Obama victory. As for future negotiations with Iran, the Democratic candidate has made it a major plank in his platform, while also declaring that it was unacceptable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and that he would do everything in his power to prevent it. The former ambassador to Israel went on to say that while Obama would be ready to talk with Iran without preconditions, this would make other options more viable, if those negotiations failed.

 

Iran Prefers Obama

How does Iran view the possibility that Barack Hussein Obama, a former Muslim, might win the U.S. presidential election? Menashe Amir, an Israeli expert on Iran, says not only Iran but also the rest of the Muslim world, will view it as victory for Islam. In an interview with IsraCast, Menashe Amir quoted an important Iranian personality who declared: 'If Obama enters the White House, Islam will have conquered the heart of American society!' However, President Ahmadinejad has said that he did not believe the U.S. establishment would let Obama win.
(Click here for the full article from may 20th, 2008)



 

Security still likely to dominate Israeli election

Opposition Leader Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

As for the Israeli election campaign, it has kicked off with the polls showing the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu to be front-runner with some 30 seats in the 120 member Knesset. Following closely is Kadima's Tzipi Livni, while Labor's Ehud Barak trails far behind with only 10 or so mandates. While the U.S presidential race is being waged on the battleground of the economy, this is not likely to be the case in Israel. With the looming Iranian nuclear threat and the impasse with the Palestinians, security is still likely to dominate unless the economy goes into a disastrous tailspin. But the fact the Likud leader is not leading Livni by a decisive margin after the outgoing government's fumbling of the Second Lebanon War, raises some questions. For her part, Livni with her image as a straight shooter and 'Mrs. clean' appears to enjoy a lot of credibility when matched against the two former failed prime ministers Netanyahu and Barak.

Netanyahu rejects any notion of a Palestinian state at this time and he has called for a massive military operation to uproot the Hamas regime in Gaza. Instead, Netanyahu proposes contacts with the Palestinians on an 'economic peace' as a starter. In his speech to the Knesset, Netanyahu also declared publicly that Israel should go it alone in attacking Iran's nuclear installations, if necessary. Although this resonates well with right wing voters, Netanyahu could be vulnerable on economic issues. He made his comeback while serving as finance minister in the Ariel Sharon government and gained the image of an American style capitalist by slashing welfare payments and privatizing parts of the public sector. Netanyahu steered the economy away from near disaster but his capitalistic approach may now come back to haunt him if his economic reforms are perceived as going too far.  .

Livni could give Netanyahu a tough fight

Labor's Ehud Barak has been quick to cash in on this calling for an end to a 'piggish capitalism' and returning to Labor's socialist founders. Never mind  that Barak himself reportedly made millions as a private defense consultant in the U.S something that ires not a few Israelis. This is part of Barak's negative image, one of an arrogant know-it-all that have left Labor far behind in the polls.

Tzipi Livni

So, where does all this leaves Kadima's Tzipi Livni? Her party competes with Labor for the center stage of Israeli politics. Livni will claim to be following in the footsteps of Ariel Sharon in cooperating with the Bush administration on the Annapolis process with the Palestinians. She showed toughness in the recent coalition negotiations by rejecting Shas demands against negotiating on Jerusalem and to drastically increase welfare payments. This will gain votes for Livni from many centrist and left-wing voters. On this score, the Likud's Netanyahu will also be attacked by other right wing leaders such as Avigdor Lieberman for promising Shas exorbitant payoffs, if he forms the next government. However, Livni is short on defense expertise and therefore is dependent on strong support from her Kadima rival Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff. Mofaz and Barak have both chided Livni for being a rank amateur on defense issues without relating to her past in the Mossad intelligence survive. But paradoxically if Livni were to win the election, her obvious choice for a coalition partner would be Labor whose leader Ehud Barak would again become the respected defense minister. This is apparent to the Israeli public.

Barak appears confident that when the campaign starts rolling, he will be able to run rings around both Netanyahu and Livni and this will be reflected in the public opinion polls. For her part, Livni has clashed with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a number of times - calling on him to resign for his conduct of the Second Lebanon War and on his contacts with Syria. She is banking on her image as a common sense leader who is ready to take advice and now ready to follow in the footsteps of Golda Meir.  

Magic majority of 61 or blocking majority? 

But when all is said and done, an Israeli politician must be able to cobble together the magic majority of at least 61 seats in the 120 member Knesset, or if the election results in a blocking majority that absolutely bars one leader from forging the 61 seat majority. For example, left wing Meretz and the Arab parties would never join a Likud coalition and the election results could induce even Shas and other religious parties to join a centrist coalition, as a last resort. Another option could be a national unity government comprising Likud, Kadima and Labor but this appears to be a very long shot. 

At present, the potential right wing coalition led by Netanyahu is running neck and neck with the center left coalition headed by Livni -  it is still an open question who will form the next Israeli government. Until then, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will remain in office apparently until sometime in late February or early March. Unless,  he is indicted on the suspicion of corruption that has forced him to leave office.

David Essing

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