Netanyahu’s victory is Obama’s latest headache
Bibi's strong comeback is a win for Republicans in Congress and a loss for U.S. President Barack Obama
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpected win this week, adding 12 new seats to the Likud party in the Knesset and in the process securing himself another term, is a blessing for some and a nightmare for others outside Israel.
“Bibi Bibi Bibi”, as his supporters chanted Tuesday night, marked another high point in a long political legacy for one of the world’s most divisive leaders. Netanyahu was called “a liar” by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, while he is compared to Winston Churchill by those on the right in the United States.
His strong comeback is a win for Republicans in Congress and a loss for U.S. President Barack Obama that could complicate his Iran push. In that sense it serves as welcome news for Tehran’s hardliners, and anyone regionally rallying against an Iran deal.
Blow to Obama and peace process
Even if Netanyahu were to lose, one can argue that the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians did not have a realistic chance of recovery in the next two years.
A divided Palestinian house between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and a region that is preoccupied with ISIS, four civil wars, and countering Iran will unlikely deliver breakthroughs in the negotiations.
Netanyahu’s win seals the fate of the peace process, rendering it completely hopeless in the hands of a potential Israeli right and nationalist coalition.
In doing so, Netanyahu is fully aware that there is no price tag attached for killing the peace negotiations. His declaration ahead of the vote “if I'm elected, there will be no Palestinian state” was aimed at rallying his base as much as it was a realistic projection for the next two years.
Almost like the fictional character of Frank Underwood in “House of Cards,” Bibi only responds to pressure and cost-benefit analysis, and knows all too well that there will be nothing too costly for departing the negotiating table.
Obama’s threats of a U.N. endorsement for a Palestinian state will likely be hindered by internal U.S. politics and risk of another clash with Congress, already at odds with the White House over Iran.
In that context, Netanyahu’s victory is only a further headache for Obama. The two leaders neither like nor trust each other, and they certainly don’t see eye to eye in politics and policy.
The U.S. President and Netanyahu differ on almost every regional policy priority, except confronting ISIS. Bibi’s win buries Obama’s last pitch to restart the peace process, and aggravates the confrontation over Iran through his alignment with Congress.
Boosts Republicans, Iran’s hardliners
Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3 was a harbinger of things to come if the Prime Minister stayed in office.
Even if the Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, who orchestrated the speech without the knowledge of the White House, is replaced, the Netanyahu approach since the 1990s of pitting Congress against the administration will likely continue.
The Republicans see in Netanyahu a political ally, whose hawkish views on the nuclear deal with Iran, and supporting the Egyptian government are closer to them than those of the White House.
Bibi’s strong comeback offers the GOP a boost in rallying Congress against the deal with Iran, and raises the stakes for Democrats by being seen against Israel if they oppose the legislative measures.
Additionally, with the U.S. Presidential campaigns about to take off this summer, Netanyahu gains extra leverage in cornering Obama domestically.
Potential presidential nominees from both parties are far more likely to take more hawkish positions on national security, and try to secure the fundraising and voting power of the pro-Israel lobby in key battleground states.
These atmospherics and the increased polarization following Netanyahu’s win between the Congress and the White House, will inadvertently play into Iran’s hardliners advantage.
The hardliners in Iran will not only build on the Obama-Congress rift to expose the weakness and un-sustainability of any deal, but will seek to blame the U.S. and Israel if the talks falter and no deal is reached.
With Israel’s election results, a strengthened Netanyahu is a thorn in Obama’s side, and a loss for the administration on the peace process front as well as a vis-à-vis with the Republican Congress.
If “chickenshit” and “spat in our face” accusations between Obama and Bibi are any indication of what is next, settling scores and confrontation will likely replace the testy coexistence of the last six years.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam