Quotes of the day

Days before millions of Israelis head to the election booths, a Channel 2 poll published Friday night revealed that the Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livini is set to win 26 seats. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud trails with a projected 22-seat showing. 

Media outlets are forbidden by law from publishing any more poll results before the election – so as we head into Tuesday’s election, the Zionist Union appears headed to victory. We should note, however, that the formation of a unity government comprising both leading parties seems quite possible, Netanyahu and Herzog’s denials notwithstanding.

If the Zionist Union and Likud don’t reach an agreement, and the Zionist Union finds enough third-party support to form the next coalition, Netanyahu’s six-year turn as Israel’s prime minister will come to an abrupt end. Isaac Herzog would become Israel’s thirteenth prime minister, and the first Labor premier since Ehud Barak, who defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999. 


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned supporters at a rally here Sunday that he and his Likud party may not win Tuesday’s election, a potentially dramatic fall for a consummate political survivor whose nine years in office transformed him into the public face of contemporary Israel.

A loss by Netanyahu — or a razor-thin win and the prospect that he would be forced to enter into an unwieldy “government of national unity” with his rivals — would mark a sobering reversal for Israel’s security hawks, in a country where the electorate has been moving steadily rightward for the past 15 years…

“It’s the first time that I can recall that the voters are zeroing in on the economy,” Bennett said in an interview. “Some thought there might be other issues, like Iran, but there hasn’t been.”


“There is a huge international effort, with major money, that is partnering up with leftist organizations here and also with media figures in order to bring down the Likud government that I head,” Netanyahu told Channel 2 television on Saturday.

Speaking from his formal residence, Netanyahu said the forces he saw arrayed against him “know one thing – that when Bougie (Herzog) and Tzipi come in here, they won’t stand firm even for a minute. They will fold on every position right away.”

“Whether legal or not, it certainly is not legitimate for foreign governments and all kinds of donors to meddle here.”


The most contentious and pressing issues for Israeli voters are the prices of housing and food—not security, as many Westerners tend to assume. Indeed, if security were the only issue, Netanyahu’s coalition would be in little danger…

Despite the gaps between the parties on domestic issues, a broad consensus emerged among the speakers about the threat Israel faces from Iran, even as Netanyahu’s choice to address the topic before the U.S. Congress earlier this month proved controversial…

“When it comes to Iran, we fully support the government’s policy towards Iran, except the recent speech in Washington, D.C.,” Shai insisted, eliciting thunderous boos from many in the audience. “This was not the right time or place to make this speech.”

“To go to Washington and challenge the president of the United States” was an embarrassment “to the American Jewish community, challenging their loyalty,” Shai added, drawing another round of jeers from the audience.


“It’s going to be a national unity government of some kind,” said Mr Barak. “Netanyahu knows he’s got a real problem. He cannot face the US or Europe or the world community with a government of Likud and of the Right. It’s going to have to be a government that includes the centre and the centre-Left parties.”

If, on the other hand, the polls are right and Mr Herzog comes first, he may have no choice except to invite Likud to join a grand coalition…

Without Mr Netanyahu’s party, Mr Herzog would be left with only two highly implausible ways of putting together a majority. He could try to persuade the hard-left Meretz party to sit in a cabinet with the radical right-wing nationalists of Avigdor Lieberman. Alternatively, Mr Herzog could attempt to reconcile an ultra-Orthodox religious party with the secular centrists led by Yair Lapid, a former finance minister.

If these pathways to a majority prove impossible, then Mr Herzog would have to invite Mr Netanyahu to serve alongside him. Under one possible formula, Mr Herzog would be prime minister for the first half of a four-year term, before handing over to his rival for the final two years.


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…

For all intents and purposes, if Isaac Herzog becomes Prime Minister he would become Obama’s lapdog.


About Netanyahu’s approach, what else is there to say? The prime minister decided to turn the leader of the United States, the country that is Israel’s chief benefactor, diplomatic protector, weapons supplier and strategic partner—into an adversary by, among other things, making common cause with Obama’s domestic political adversaries. Netanyahu has legitimate criticisms of the Obama administration’s handling of the Iranian nuclear issue, but he mismanaged the relationship so badly that the doors of the White House are practically closed to him. (And yes, it may be unpleasant to acknowledge, but it is true that responsibility for the maintenance of the relationship rests with the junior, dependent, partner, not with the superpower. Please see my recent conversation with Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., for more on this subject.)…

But what does Herzog think about Obama—and specifically, about his handling of the Iran nuclear talks? Here is what he told me in December, when I interviewed him at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum: “I trust the Obama administration to get a good deal.”

Herzog does not downplay the Iran matter, but nor does he cast it in apocalyptic terms, as Netanyahu does. “I agree that a nuclear Iran is extremely dangerous, and I believe that it must be prevented,” Herzog told The Washington Post recently. “No Israeli leader will accept a nuclear Iran. All options for me are still on the table,” including the military option. But when asked if a nuclear Iran posed an “existential threat,” he demurred: “It is a big threat. That’s enough.”

On another pressing, possibly existential issue, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Herzog argues that the status is quo is unsustainable, which puts him in line with Obama’s own thinking on the subject: “This is not a situation where you wait and the problem goes away,” the U.S. president said in an interview I conducted with him in 2013.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Monday that as long as he is the leader, a Palestinian state would not be established, reversing his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a video interview published on the NRG website. “Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The left does this time and time again. We are realistic and understand.”

Asked if he meant that a Palestinian state would not be established if he were to continue as Israel’s prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu replied: “Correct.”


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorability ratings with Americans have fallen in the wake of his March 3 address at the U.S. House of Representatives, a new Gallup poll finds.

Conducted between March 5-8, the new poll shows Netanyahu’s favorable rating fell seven points (to 38 percent), while his unfavorable numbers jumped by five percentage points (to 29 percent) in comparison to the same poll Gallup conducted from February 8-11.


As I noted yesterday, Netanyahu’s biggest mistake was in calling new elections when he didn’t have to. It was a colossal blunder since Israelis felt they had given him a mandate only two years previously and his belief that he could get an even stronger majority now is seen as a cynical move that is wasting the country’s time and resources.

It’s also true that his emphasis on security issues—the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process and the Iranian nuclear threat—didn’t strike the right note with voters who think it’s time the government concentrated more of its energy on solving domestic crises like the shortage and price of housing and the cost of living. But while American liberals and Obama administration supporters who don’t forgive Netanyahu for directly challenging the president on Iran would like to think the speech backfired, they are probably jumping to an incorrect conclusion when they make such a claim.

There’s little evidence that the speech hurt Netanyahu’s chances but also no proof that it helped much. In the aftermath of the speech, Netanyahu’s poll numbers actually went up a couple of seats. But the post-speech bump didn’t last. While few in Israel are happy about the decline in relations with the United States, most of the blame for that is put on President Obama. He remains the least favorite U.S. president among Israelis who rightly consider his tilt toward the Palestinians and pursuit of détente with Iran an indication of his lack of trustworthiness as an ally. Most, including many who will vote against him, agree with Netanyahu about both Iran and Obama’s bad faith. Yet in an election where voters are telling us they are sick and tired of a man seeking a fourth term as prime minister, agreement on Iran or even the Palestinians may not be enough.


As far as Republicans are concerned, Israel is just right; whatever Israel wants to do is right; and whatever Israel asks of the United States is precisely what we should do. The only question is whether you’re “supporting” the country with the proper zeal. Republicans don’t concern themselves much with the lively debates over policy within Israel, because the government is controlled by conservatives (Netanyahu’s Likud Party has ruled since 2001, with an interregnum of control by Kadima, a Likud offshoot). “Support for Israel” just means support for the current Israeli government.

But tomorrow, Republicans could learn that by the standard they’ve been using, most Israelis are insufficiently pro-Israel. And then what? What if a Labor-led government moves toward a two-state solution, or a curtailing of Jewish settlement in the West Bank? And what if those changes are enthusiastically supported by President Obama and Hillary Clinton? “Support for Israel” sounds great when the country’s prime minister and a Democratic president regard each other with barely disguised contempt, but things could get complicated.

That might actually force Republicans to think about Israel, and America’s relationship to it, with a little more nuance. They’d have to admit that when they used to say “I support Israel,” what they actually meant was that they support the Likud and its vision for Israel’s future.


It turns out that when you go to the capital of your most important ally and slap its president in the face—particularly when that ally is the only friend standing between your country and near-total international isolation—your own people don’t necessarily conclude that you’re a hero. Many of them conclude that you’re a jerk, a fool, and a hazard. In a poll released Tuesday, 49 percent of Israeli Jews said the U.S. would be less friendly to a government led by Netanyahu than to a government led by his rivals. Only 7 percent said the opposite. When Jewish Israelis were asked which head of state was responsible for frayed relations with the United States, only 32 percent blamed Obama. Twenty-seven percent blamed their own prime minister.

Maybe Netanyahu is right. Maybe the whole world is out to get him. But if that’s true, it’s not because he’s brave or righteous. It’s because he has gone out of his way to antagonize so many people. Obama is just another leader he couldn’t get along with. Among heads of state, rolling your eyes at Netanyahu has become a bonding experience…

Even his own party is fed up. In anonymous interviews, Likud officials are burying him. “Netanyahu kept Likud ministers far from decisions,” says one, citing the prime minister’s “excessive focus” on himself. Another complains: “He decided to put himself at the front. … It turns out the public is weary of Netanyahu, but he didn’t think that was a good enough reason to scale back his presence in the campaign.”

Of course not. Netanyahu is botching the election the same way he botched Israel’s leverage in the Iran deal, its relations with the United States, and everything else. He commandeers the stage, insults his allies, and refuses to shut up. That’s who he is. And that’s who he’ll still be a year or two from now. But he won’t be prime minister of Israel.



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