Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Israeli Vote Settles Little

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Israeli Vote Settles Little

Article excerpt

Here's a pop quiz for those who have been too busy to notice the surprising results of last Tuesday's Israeli election: Was the key issue (1) Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's testy relationship with President Obama; (2) whether Israel should bomb Iran's nuclear sites; or (3) whether to revive the mummified peace process?

Answer: None of the above. Issues of war and peace had little to do with the sliding support for Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing coalition. (He'll still be prime minister but will have to work hard to woo new coalition partners.) Nor did these issues propel the rise of the new centrist star, Yair Lapid, a young, attractive TV personality whose new party came in an unexpected second. The newcomer's big issue was his promise to halt subsidies and military exemptions granted to thousands of ultrareligious Israelis.

This is further evidence that Israelis have lost faith in the peace process and are focused on domestic problems. But now that the Israeli (as well as the U.S.) election season is over, those sidelined issues will force themselves back to the fore.

The Israeli press is already speculating about how Mr. Netanyahu can repair his famously strained relations with Mr. Obama. "Netanyahu's support for Mitt Romney was a mistake," the prominent Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea said in a conference call organized by the Israel Policy Forum. "He believed a Romney victory would increase the chance of a U.S. attack on Iran and decrease the pressure on the Israel-Palestinian issue. Now he has no option [but to] deal with Barack Hussein Obama."

Mr. Barnea continued: "Bibi will do his best to soothe Obama without any concessions." Israelis are already speculating about what role the untried Mr. Lapid might play in repairing the breach.

But the tensions between Jerusalem and Washington won't be easily soothed. Despite Mr. Obama's strong military and diplomatic support for Israel, Mr. Netanyahu openly challenged him on Iran at the United Nations in September. Israel argues that even if it has to attack alone, Iran must be prevented from developing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, which the Israeli leader projected would happen by spring. …

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