Five thoughts from Israel on Obama’s re-election
For Israeli leaders, the results of the U.S. election are just a precursor to the vote set to happen here in January.
1. Benjamin Netanyahu's morning: The prime minister and his advisers followed Tuesday night's developments on a split screen: on the left side, the U.S. election; on the right side, the primaries in Habayit Hayehudi. The prime minister is fighting against both Obama and Naftali Bennett, and openly helped both of their opponents. In both cases, his gamble turned out to be wrong. Netanyahu woke up to a morning in which Obama is celebrating in Chicago and new Habayit Hayehudi leader Bennett is celebrating in Tel Aviv. For his miscalculations, Netanyahu will pay twice over in terms of the Knesset seats Likud will lose.
Following the initial shock, Netanyahu issued a cool congratulatory message in which he said he would "continue to work with President Obama." In an effort to rectify the damage, Netanyahu rapidly organized a photo-op with the U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro, but even in front of the cameras, instead of complimenting Obama he praised American democracy. Netanyahu smiled a big smile for the cameras, but his joy was only outward.
2. Ehud Olmert's morning: The former prime minister, who is currently in the United States, followed the results of the election from New York. He is still on the fence about whether or ot to return to politics and run in the upcoming elections, and has been consulting with Tzipi Livni, with Shaul Mofaz, with Gabi Ashkenazi and many others. Obama's victory could be the opening shot in Olmert's election campaign. On the other hand, the state prosecution's decision to appeal the court decisions in the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs is a reminder of the heavy legal yolk he is under, and is making him think again. The political clock is ticking. He must decide by the end of the week.
3. Ehud Barak's morning: While in the Prime Minister's Office they put the champagne back in the cabinet, in the defense minister's office they popped it open. While Netanyahu and his aides try to figure out how to deal with the enemy's news, Barak was the first to publish a message of congratulations and to invite news teams in to tape a recorded message. In recent years, Barak has served as Netanyahu's liaison officer to the American government. Most of the time he has relayed Netanyahu's messages, but sometimes he's also passed along his own. In recent weeks, in the context of the tension with the U.S. government over Iran, Barak has distanced himself from Netanyahu, portraying himself in Washington as the responsible adult, the gatekeeper of Israel-U.S. relations. For him, this is a political asset that fits in well with the election campaign. If his Atzmaut party passes the electoral threshold, Barak will be a clear candidate to serve again as the next defense minister.
4. Shelly Yacimovich and Yair Lapid's morning: The two candidates - the leaders of Labor and Yesh Atid, respectively - have proclaimed themselves as candidates for prime minister, despite their utter lack of diplomatic experience. The most senior American statesman they have ever met is Dan Shapiro.
Obama's victory gives them an opportunity to goad Netanyahu and present themselves as a diplomatic alternative. From their initial reactions, it would seem they are still hesitant. Yacimovich, who only a few days ago fondly recalled the "socialist" Rabin, presented herself yesterday as Obama's ideological twin. Lapid followed Netanyahu's stance by calling on Obama "to stand by his promise to stop the Iranian nuclearization." Not for nothing do many think that Yacimovich and Lapid are actually competing for the role of senior minister in the next Netanyahu government.
5. Israel-U.S. relations this morning: Beyond the politics, Netanyahu's government and the Obama administration have two weighty issues that require decisions before the Israeli election on January 22. The first is the Palestinians' move to seek statehood recognition in the United Nations at the end of this month, and the other is the talks between Iran and the six world powers, which will reconvene within a few weeks. Obama will not forget and will not forgive Netanyahu for his support of Mitt Romney. However, one hopes that Netanyahu and Obama manage to put aside the bad blood between them and work together to address these two challenges. Netanyahu must do everything in his power to help Obama help him.
The blog of Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, taking a deeper look behind the scenes of Israeli politics and foreign policy.