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Prime Minister Netanyahu's Challenges Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
April 1, 2009

Israel made a right turn, but signaled to the left.

Its new prime minister, who is back in the political driver's seat for the second time in his career, did this for tactical reasons -- to evade potential threats by his ultra-nationalist and religious coalition partners to quit if he deviates from their hard-line beliefs.

That is one of the reasons why Benjamin Netanyahu made an offer that Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak could not refuse.  Barak remains defense minister, the post he held in the previous government, other leading Laborites are cabinet members again and the chairmanship of the Knesset's influential committee on defense and foreign affairs is going to a Laborite as well.

Netanyahu, who learned a thing or two during his previous stint as prime minister, from 1996 to 2000, does not want the U.S., European Union and Russia to back away from Israel in the belief that the Jewish state under its new regime will not consider territorial concessions in favor of the Palestinians or a peace treaty with Syria.

He will make his first diplomatic move by flying to Washington for talks there with President Obama and senior American officials during the first week of May.  His main goal will to explain why he does not believe that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is attainable under the current circumstances.

Like many Israeli analysts as well as independent observers abroad, Netanyahu regards the Islamic Hamas organization which rules the Gaza Strip in defiance of the Palestinian Authority as one of the main impediments to Palestinian statehood.  Its theologically-oriented leadership insists that all of historical Palestine must be under Islamic rule and that there cannot be a separate and sovereign Jewish state on Palestinian territory.

Furthermore, he is likely to alert his hosts to the possibility that Hamas may win a majority in the West Bank as well as in the Gaza Strip when the Palestinians go to the polls January, 2010.  This could bring down the curtain on the U.S.-backed negotiations between Israel and the PA if only because Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist and therefore cannot be a co-signatory to any kind of agreement with it.

Netanyahu may be drawn into a military showdown with Hamas that if it authorizes or tolerates a resumption of the missile, rocket and mortar fire that triggered Israel's 22-day long onslaught against Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.  His constituency expects decisive action now that he is back in power.  This is something he will have to point out to the President and other U.S. officials.

Lurking in the background of these discussions will be Iran's effort to develop a nuclear capability that enable it to produce weapons of mass destruction, i.e. nuclear bombs.  Israel has been relying on the U.S. to forestall this nightmare, especially in view of the public threats by Iranian leaders to destroy the so-called Zionist entity.

The scenario that undoubtedly concerns the Obama Administration most of all is that
Israel's determination to prevent a second Holocaust in which Jews again would be the primary victims of premeditated genocide might prompt it to act unilaterally against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Netanyahu's advocacy of collective action against the Islamic Republic of Iran which he has long perceived as an existential threat to the West as a whole and as a constant sponsor of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Lebanon's Hizbollah could prompt him to repeat the anti-nuclear air strikes carried out by Israel in Iraq 28 years ago and in Syria last year.

Another issue that probably will be raised by Netanyahu in Washington will be the economic crisis that began in the U.S. late last year and spread since then to the rest of the developed world, including Israel.

He has been credited with rescuing the Israeli economy from collapse while serving as finance minister under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and he is expected to be actively-involved in Israel's effort to avoid as many of the global downturn's consequences as possible.

There is a 35 per cent decline in Israel's exports, a sharp rise in unemployment, an increase in business failures and an unprecedented fall in interest rates here.   Several of the country's major banks sustained heavy losses in 2008 and Netanyahu undoubtedly will confer with American officials who have been dealing with similar setbacks on government policies designed to cope with these problems.

 

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