via Lobe Log

Mitchell Plitnick discusses the implications of Netanyahu’s decision to repeat his call for early elections in Israel after his decision earlier this year to first call for, and then call off, such elections:

Early elections are appealing to Netanyahu in other ways. If his position is secure upon the re-election of Barack Obama, this will put him in a stronger position to withstand the US President’s anger at Bibi’s efforts to dislodge him from office. It will also help him stand up to international resistance should he decide to again ramp up his calls for an attack on Iran, and in his ongoing stalemate with the Palestinians. Early elections will also not give Netanyahu’s rivals – former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, ex-Foreign Minister and Kadima leader, Tzipi Livni and former Shas leader Aryeh Deri – enough time to mount a serious threat to Bibi’s position.

Though the Israeli media has been filled with reports of a “rift” between Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Likud insiders have remarked that the matter is more one of electoral posturing for the sake of the settler movement than a looming break between the two Iran hawks:

If the defense minister was not functioning according to Netanyahu’s expectations, he would be fired. The truth is that there is professional harmony between them. It became important for Barak to recruit center-left votes to pass the electoral threshold, after he realized that he had no chance of getting a guaranteed place on the Likud Knesset list. To Netanyahu, on the other hand, it’s important to put some distance between himself and Barak, who is seen as the settlers’ enemy.

Plitnick asserts that Netanyahu and Likud’s domination of the government is unlikely to be seriously contested by the other Knesset parties, and believes that this is indicative of how Israeli politics will play out for years to come following the upsurge of rightist sentiment in Israeli political life:

It [early elections] would make Bibi very secure in his position, even more so than he is now.

That’s what Netanyahu is seeing as his potential endgame, and that is why he is willing to risk a major economic crisis in Israel by playing games with the new budget. Even if new elections happen in February , that would mean a new budget wouldn’t be in place until late spring or summer. In the meantime, the Israeli economy will be vulnerable and ministries will be underfunded. That’s a high price for a country to pay for its Prime Minister’s political ambitions.

Two points emerge from this assessment. One is that there is no reason to question the expectation that Netanyahu and Likud would win a new election. That is true despite the fact that Bibi’s approval ratings are quite low, generally between 30% and 40%. Many Israelis simply don’t see a better option.

The second, perhaps more disturbing, point is how little the issues of the Occupation and relations with the Arab world figure into this political calculus. Leaders of Labor or Kadima occasionally lob some minor criticism at Netanyahu for the comatose state of the “peace process,” but it is clearly not the place they want to stand against Bibi most strongly. Yet the ease with which Israel currently sees not only relations with the Palestinians, but with the entire Arab world (through the prism of the tensions with Iran,) is not going to last.