The "international community" is eagerly anticipating the incoming Obama administration's policy toward Israel. It is widely assumed that as soon as he comes into office, US president-elect Barack Obama will move quickly to place massive pressure on the next Israeli government to withdraw from Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in the interests of advancing a "peace process" with the Palestinians and the Syrians.
Giving voice to these expectations this week was this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Martti Ahtisaari. The former Finnish prime minister used his prize ceremony to call on Obama to make contending with the Palestinian conflict with Israel his chief focus during his first year in office. This is the same Ahtisaari who recently demanded that the West recognize Hamas as a legitimate political movement.
People who have been in close contact with Obama's foreign policy transition team have privately acknowledged that the widespread belief that Obama will move swiftly to put the screws on Israel is fully justified. According to one source who has spent a great deal of time with the transition team since last month's US elections, Obama's people are "scope-locked" on Israel.
The source reports that Gen. Jim Jones, Obama's designated national security adviser, is Israel's most outspoken critic. The source, who held a two and a half hour meeting with Jones, told his associates that Jones is keen to deploy NATO forces, perhaps including US troops, to Judea and Samaria.
Jones's plan, which is vociferously opposed by the IDF, would make it impossible for the IDF to carry out counterterror operations in the areas. As a practical matter, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who live in the areas would be imperiled. Just as Hizbullah has used UNIFIL forces in south Lebanon as a shield from the IDF behind which it has rearmed and reasserted control over the border zone, so too a NATO force would facilitate an empowerment of Hamas and Fatah, which would unify, arm and organize free from the threat of IDF counterterror operations.
Jones's plan is not new. In a 2002 interview, Samantha Power – who has been one of Obama's closest foreign affairs advisers for years and now serves as a member of his transition team for the State Department – called for US forces to be deployed to Judea and Samaria as "a mammoth protection force" to protect the Palestinians from Israel, which she claimed was guilty of "major human rights abuses."
Obama's team, like its supporters in the international foreign policy establishment, is dismayed by the Israeli opinion polls that show that Likud, led by Binyamin Netanyahu, is favored to win February 10's general elections by a wide margin.
In anticipation of Likud's expected electoral victory, they have been piling on against Netanyahu and the party. This was most recently evident at last week's Middle East policy conclave in Washington organized by the pro-Obama and post-Zionist Saban Middle East Forum at the Brookings Institute. There, both secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton's surrogate, former president Bill Clinton, and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice castigated Netanyahu's assertion that peace must be built from the bottom up through the liberalization of Palestinian society, rather than from the top down by giving land to terrorists.
Netanyahu foresees Palestinian liberalization coming through economic development in an "economic peace process."
Both the former US president and Rice attacked his plan, claiming that it is antithetical to the sacrosanct "two-state solution."
As far as they and their many colleagues are concerned, the only thing that remains to be discussed is when Israel will vacate Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. The fact that there is no significant Palestinian constituency willing to peacefully coexist with Israel is irrelevant.
In light of the incoming Obama administration's palpable hostility toward Israel, and particularly toward Israel's political realists, the results of the Likud primary this past Monday were especially significant. In selecting the party's slate of candidates for Knesset, Likud members favored sober-minded politicians who use their common sense to guide them over those with records of support for the fraudulent "peace processes" so favored by the local media, Kadima, Labor and the international jet set.
Likud politicians who warned of the dangers of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon's decision to withdraw from Gaza and expel some 10,000 Israelis from their homes in Gaza and northern Samaria were elected to the top of the Knesset slate. Those who supported Sharon's withdrawal and expulsion plan – which is now widely recognized to have been Israel's most disastrous strategic move in recent history – were either rejected out of hand, or demoted.
The men and women selected by Likud's voters will provide Netanyahu with the political strength to stand up to pressure from the Obama White House. They will support him when he is forced to reject US demands that Israel give away vital territory to Fatah and Hamas militias and to Syria's Iranian-sponsored regime. They will support him when he is compelled to refuse US demands to deploy NATO forces to Judea and Samaria. They will back him when he says that Fatah is not a peace partner for Israel but Hamas's partner for war against Israel.
That the general public shares the sensibilities exhibited by Likud primary voters is made clear by the fact that Likud's standing in the polls has not significantly diminished since the primary. If, as the media warned, the public would reject a list comprised of sober-minded realists, one would have expected that support to drop. Instead, it remains steady even as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni castigates Likudniks as naysayers and opponents of peace and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert scandalously invites the nations of the world to turn against Israel if Likud wins the elections.
One might have intuited that the striking contrast between the sober-minded Likud party and the delusional and defeatist Kadima and Labor parties that was brought so prominently to the fore by the Likud primary would have been the central message that Netanyahu chose to convey in the days that have followed Monday's vote. But sadly, one would be wrong to think that.
Disturbingly, rather than drawing distinctions between his party and its rivals, Netanyahu has spent the days since the primary drawing distinctions between himself and a minor player in his own party. Both ahead of the primary and in the days since, Netanyahu has devoted the majority of his time to attacking his sharpest critic within the party – Moshe Feiglin, who heads the far-right Jewish Leadership Forum in Likud and won the not-particularly-senior 20th position on Likud's Knesset slate. On Thursday, Netanyahu succeeded in pushing Feiglin down to the 36th spot.
Feiglin has more in common with the Left he abhors than with his party members. Like the Left, Feiglin bases his strategic and economic notions on a complete denial of reality. Whereas the Left ignores the Arabs, Feiglin ignores the West. Feiglin's religious adherence to his views has made him few friends in Likud or elsewhere in Israeli politics. The threat he constitutes to Netanyahu is negligible.
Given Feiglin's inherent weakness, Netanyahu's post-primary focus on him is shocking. Netanyahu has argued that Feiglin will lose votes for Likud. But assuming that is true, the last thing Netanyahu should be doing is placing a spotlight on Feiglin. Rather, Netanyahu should be emphasizing his strongest suit: the clear distinction between Likud on the one hand and Kadima and Labor on the other hand.
In focusing the public's attention on Feiglin, Netanyahu appears to be reacting to foreign pressures rather than domestic
ones. One of Netanyahu's most difficult challenges during his tenure as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 was handling his relations with the hostile Clinton administration. From the moment Netanyahu was elected until the moment he left office, the Clinton administration's Israel policy was devoted entirely to bringing down his government. In close collusion with Netanyahu's political opponents and the local media, for three years Clinton worked steadily to overthrow him. Clinton's assault culminated in the 1999 elections when he sent his own campaign managers to Israel to lead the Labor Party's campaign against Netanyahu and Likud.
No doubt, it is in the hopes of building better relations with the incoming Obama administration that Netanyahu now seeks to distance himself from Feiglin and advocates forming a broad governing coalition with his political foes in Kadima and Labor. Apparently, in his view only such a broad coalition will insulate him from a US presidential assault. In the interests of forming such a coalition, while highlighting his disputes with Feiglin, Netanyahu has sought to obfuscate his ideological differences with Kadima and Labor.
Although Netanyahu's motivations are understandable, his mode of operation will bring him results exactly opposed to the ones he seeks. It is true that to withstand pressures and even an all-out assault by the Obama administration Netanyahu will need a broad coalition. But that coalition cannot be based on a simple will to power, as Olmert's coalition and previous leftist coalitions have been. To survive a hostile White House, Netanyahu will require a broad coalition founded on support for his ideas and his party's policies, not a broad coalition populated by political and ideological opponents dedicated to undermining his ideas and policies.
Rather than obfuscate the differences between Likud and Kadima/Labor, Netanyahu must highlight them. He must convince the Israeli electorate to vote for Likud on the basis of these distinctions. Likud must be perceived as the party of commonsense ideas and clear-minded policies that inspire, attract and convince the Israeli public to support it. And Netanyahu and Likud have those ideas and policies.
On a strategic level, Netanyahu and Likud have made clear that they stand for three main principles. First, they are committed to establishing defensible borders for Israel by securing Israeli sovereignty over all of greater Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, the Samarian Hills and the Golan Heights.
Second, they recognize that the Palestinian society that elected a terror group to lead it is a society that is uninterested in peace with Israel. Consequently, any future negotiations must be preceded by a full reorganization and reform of Palestinian society.
Third, they reject the Kadima/Labor fantasy that foreign militaries and international forces can be expected to protect Israel in place of the IDF.
If Netanyahu runs on these policies, he will not merely win the elections. He will win a clear mandate to govern. And only if Netanyahu runs on these policies will he have a chance of blunting the pressure that will certainly be brought to bear by the Obama administration. For although it is clear that like Clinton, Obama will have no problem opposing the will of an Israeli government, he will be hard pressed to oppose the will of the Israeli people.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.