THE BLOG
12/05/2014 10:26 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

PM Netanyahu Outsmarts Himself

Two days ago, PM Netanyahu did what he does best, and delivered a good, entertaining TV appearance, in which he explained his surprising decision to dissolve the Knesset and call for new parliamentary elections, just 20 months after the January 2013 elections. Even in Israel it was a record-breaking situation, but then, the PM, seeming to be acting according to a well-crafted plan, was calling the shots. The centrist ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni were caught red-handed, with their hitherto boss accusing them of plotting a Putsch behind his back, no less. A reminder of the era of dirty politics that he, Netanyahu, not exactly a political virgin, was so opposed to.

Well, 24 hours passed and the jungle of Israeli politics was again in full display.

The anti-Putsch PM, so it is reported, sent his men to try and entice members of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party [Yesh Atid = there is a future] to join an alternative coalition government, composed of the secular and religious right wing parties. This is Israeli politics, but a little more than the usual folklorist, if not outright ugly, side of this politics. So, what is going on?

The early polls taken in Israel indicate that the PM may know what he is doing, as the possibility of an alternative center-left government seems impossible. Polls can be misleading, but assuming that the drift to the right is strategic, and the demographic electoral trends of the public are what they have been for most of the last 35 years, then Netanyahu will indeed retain his job. A simple question looms: so what? What will the PM really do in the day after? Sure, he can re-establish a government based on the almost traditional alliance between Likud and the right wing and religious parties. A coalition like that will have to include Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister and Naftali Bennett as Defense Minister. The dream team of the hard core right wing, and the nightmare of almost every one else in Israel, but not less important, a disaster for the pro-Israel community in the US, as well as almost anywhere else in the world.

Even a very friendly American Congress, and the newly-elected one is definitely VERY friendly, will not be able to stem Israel's quick drift to isolation, pressures and possible Security Council resolution in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state, which will be unopposed by the Obama administration.

If a government with Lapid and Livni proved unable to move Netanyahu towards a political move with the Palestinian Authority[ PA], complementing the defeat inflicted on Hamas in the summer, based on the continuing good will of Egypt under President Al-Sisi, then no need to have any illusions about a Lieberman-Bennett stranglehold of a newly-elected Netanyahu.

Surely enough, Mahmoud Abbas bears responsibility to the current limbo, and the support he gets from some parliaments in Europe and the daily barrage of condemnations of Israel, emanating from the State Department, is very detrimental, but Netanyahu may have missed his own golden opportunity to turn a military success in Gaza into a political initiative in the West Bank.

Regardless of his statements, Netanyahu knows full well that from now to the projected day of the elections [17 March, 2015, save for any last-minute change] that the US and many other friendly states will do their utmost to derail his campaign in order to prevent his reelection. It will be a mistake, as Israelis do not like this kind of foreign interference, but there will not also be 100 days of grace after the elections. The unbearable diplomatic pressures will come fast and furious, and the results could be very damaging.

It is, of course, possible that even after all his years at the helm, Netanyahu genuinely believes that he can somehow use his wonders and evade the scenario just described, but then policy cannot be based on hopes, illusions and shifty sands.

The day after the elections will be Netanyahu's utmost test of leadership during his entire career. The man knows the world, he knows the US, he understands world economics, so the big question is, can he REALLY be genuine in his push towards new elections, or did he gamble on a move of shock politics, outsmarting Lapid, Livni, the Labor Party and other political challengers, forcing his erstwhile partners to rejoin a new coalition government, out of fear of a defeat in the upcoming elections?

Well, too early to give a definitive, final answer, but here are growing signs that even a well experienced political fox can outsmart himself, more than his rivals.