Will Israeli election results be a game-changer?

Netanyahu’s speech to U.S. Congress on Iran caused a stir among experts who are anxiously following the election campaign

Maria Dubovikova
Maria Dubovikova
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Netanyahu’s speech to U.S. Congress on Iran caused a stir among experts who are anxiously following the election campaign in Israel as it enters its final stage. Israeli society decides who will rule the country for the next four years and which political course will be chosen. This affects not only the life of ordinary Israelis, but also the fate of the region. Despite its small size and limited capacities, Israel influences the international agenda and is at the center of several complex relations between states. This becomes especially remarkable when one realizes Israel stands between tree major powers in the world arena: Russia, the U.S. and Iran.

Russia has strong and stable relations with Israel and Israel is among the rare countries which were absent from the U.N. General Assembly vote not to recognize Crimea’s new status. At the same time, Israel considers Iran one of its greatest enemies, while Iran has softened its rhetoric regarding Israel since the step down of Ahmadinejad. Iran still does regard Israel as the troublemaker of the Middle East, however.

Meanwhile Russia has stable relations with the Iranian government and intensifies its ties with Iran against the background of cold Russia-West relations. However, the Iranian youth is much more favorable towards the U.S. than towards Russia. The U.S. supports Israel, but hardly tolerates Netanyahu’s policy. The U.S. clashes with Russia but cooperates with it in the framework of six-party talks on the Iranian nuclear program.

Netanyahu has declared that the two-state solution is no longer relevant saying “there will be no concessions or withdrawals,” so putting all the peace negotiations at a complete impasse. Russia, in turn, has good relations with Israel and has the same stable relations with Palestine and was among the first countries to recognize the Palestinian state in 1988. The U.S. made unilateral attempts to settle the conflict through Kerry’s initiative, that failed and was followed by the huge escalation of the conflict in the summer of 2014 and continues its efforts in the framework of the Middle East Quartet.

In the midst of such complications, the controversial address by Netanyahu to the U.S. Congress has had a very slight impact, both for international and internal affairs, as it was nicely noted by Ian Bremmer on his Twitter account: “Netanyahu visit (slightly) damaged U.S.-Israel relations, (slightly) improved his election chances at home.”

It seemed that Netanyahu had strong support inside Israeli society that is becoming more and more conservative. The escalation in the region and the spread of extremism, the growing threats and concerns leave little space for liberalism, tolerance and multiculturalism which is being forced out by the growing nationalism and paranoia.

However, the latest polls show that national fatigue stemming from a hawkish Netanyahu who paid little attention to domestic problems, gains the upper hand, and the Zionist Union, a center-left opposition party, leads the polls.

It is quite clear that a strong Jewish lobby in the U.S. won’t let the U.S.-Israeli relations freeze over, whatever the Israeli leader does. It’s not the first time U.S.-Israeli relations have not been in the best shape. There is always time for quarrels and for reconciliation.

Netanyahu’s speech didn’t change Obama’s policy towards Iran and will have little impact on the nuclear talks as well. The impact becomes even lower considering that it was a speech of an outgoing prime minister. Furthermore, it’s quite clear that the settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue depends more on U.S.-Iran talks and their mutual trust than on the six-party talks. Despite the fact that the U.S. has extended sanctions against Iran, Obama is interested in the resolution of the problem. One of the key reasons for this lies beyond the regional geopolitical playground. Iran could be an essential partner for the West in terms of energy resources in order to reduce dependency of Europe on Russia’s gas and to leave Russia without a mode of pressure and political manipulation. Iran is interested in stabilization of its ties with the U.S. because it needs sanctions to be lifted. China and Russia are not sufficient partners for the huge country to develop itself in a desirable way.

Meanwhile, Israeli policy and rhetoric toward Iran is not new and had never had an impact on Israel-Russia ties. In the case of opposition victory, this rhetoric could become more balanced and less aggressive. Furthermore, regardless of who is governing Israel, bilateral relations won’t be impacted due to the community of Soviet Union expats in Israel.

As for the fate of Palestine, that seems to be a matter of deep concern for the whole international community, for the Quartet as well, as there are two possible scenarios: if the Likud Party fails, there is a chance for a settlement or at least productive and fruitful negotiations. However, in the case of Netanyahu’s victory, the conflict won’t be settled. In fact, this could see more violence from Hamas.

The Israel of Netanyahu is a troublemaker that muddles international relations and manipulates public opinion playing on fears and nationalism. It’s time for Israel to become a constructive player capable of engaging in constructive dialogue. This would be good for the regional and global climate. Constructive dialogue could allow all parties in the Israeli-Palestinian settle the issue. The Iranian problem would be less dramatic and all the sides will have a chance to decide on a mutually comfortable compromise. So let’s wait for what Israeli society will decide. Let’s hope they make a right choice.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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