BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Unintended Consequences

President Obama would do well to take a step back from his six-month policy of pressuring Israel to make unwarranted concessions and consider the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” After little more than a half-year in office, the US has better relations with almost every country in the world, except the one that has been its most faithful ally for the past forty years – Israel. That is not to say that his policies have borne fruit everywhere: Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela continue to be thorns in the American side.

Meanwhile, his administration’s unrelenting pressure on Israel is leading to the formation of a grand coalition of conservative and right-wing political parties. There is an increasing movement within the right-wing of the Kadima part to split and join Likud, bringing with them 7 – 9 mandates in the Knesset. Likewise, about one-third of the practically defunct Labor party, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, is growing increasingly alienated from party activists and second-tier leaders.

If these factions were to join with Likud, this new entity would have between 37 and 39 mandates in the Knesset. Furthermore, a coalescence of the center-right conceivably opens the door for the two settler-dominated parties with their seven mandates to join a future coalition, creating a center-right bloc of 44 to 46 seats. This would allow it to resist some of the more extreme demands from Aguda, Shas and Israel Beitanu; it may even allow for the dismissal of one of these parties from the current coalition.

This is the “nightmare scenario” for Barack Obama, a truly right-wing government in Israel with a solid parliamentary majority.  Obama’s  administration was pushing for a Kadima-led government before ballots were even cast in Israel back in February. How did this situation come about? It is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action.

In the waning days of the Bush 43 administration, erstwhile Kadima leader Tzipi Livni was treated with more pomp-and-circumstance than a lame-duck foreign minister with meager accomplishments deserved. Meaningless treaties between the US and Israel vowing to combat terrorism and weapons smuggling were signed. These treaties did not stop one katyusha rocket from being smuggled or launched at Israel. These facts were not lost on the Israeli public.

When Barack Obama was sworn in as his country’s forty-fourth president, his administration very publicly began to brow-beat Israel, in the midst of its own general election. Their favorable disposition to the untried and untested Livni was made clear to all. The left-leaning broadcast media in Israel, as well as the left-leaning newspaper were full of dire predictions regarding the consequences of a Netanyahu-led government. These facts were not lost on the Israeli public.

What was the result? The Israeli public overwhelmingly voted for center-right and right-wing parties, handing the center-left and left-wing one of their worst defeats since Menachem Begin’s 1977 triumph.

As pointed out by numerous commentators in Israel, and now increasingly in the US, Obama’s next mistake was to unilaterally abrogate past “gentleman’s agreements” between the US and Israel on settlements, and make US opposition to settlements the salient feature of his new foreign policy.

As Daniel Pipes has shrewdly observed, this was combined with an approach that attempted to neutralize domestic support for Israel in the US. So far, this has generated few dividends. Obama has failed to deliver on both Iran and a more conciliatory Palestinian Authority. This, combined with the pressure on Israel, is starting to erode his own domestic support among the American Jewish community.

Will the Likud successfully split the Kadima and Labor parties? It is more likely to happen with Kadima, which unlike all other Israeli parties has no ideological, ethnic or religious platform. Many see it as being led by opportunists. Furthermore, it has yet to establish a coherent program that it can promote in contrast to Likud policies.

Yet, Israeli politics are among the most dynamic and ideologically based in the world, and what is certain is that there will be several more twists and turns before the final act is played out.

August 4, 2009 - Posted by | Israel, Middle East | , , ,

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