Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not expected to win a commanding majority as he did on Tuesday night when his Likud Party captured 30 seats in the Israeli Knesset. In fact, many pundits in Israel and around the world were betting against ‘Bibi’ in hopes that the leftist faction the Zionist Union would upset the Prime Minister. One of those pundits happened to be President Barack Obama.
The Obama administration was more than likely privately hoping for a victory from the Zionist Union, which was led by Isaac Herzog and a former Likud member and defector Tzipi Livni. The Zionist Union, which is on the left side of the political spectrum in Israel, is in favor of peace talks with Palestine, and staked a position of diplomacy before aggression, a policy that President Obama has adopted when dealing with foreign affairs as well. But, on Tuesday night, while other world leaders sent congratulatory messages to Netanyahu, President Obama remained relatively silent.
Everyone around the world knows that the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are frayed and at times downright nasty. In February, Netanyahu traveled to Washington, D.C. to address Congress, against the disapproval of the Obama administration. There was no joint meeting between Netanyahu and Obama, and the Republicans in Congress were quick to blast President Obama for not attending the Prime Minister’s address to a joint session of Congress. Obama, meanwhile, deemed the speech as ‘unprecedented’ and rhetoricized that the Republicans in Congress were going behind the President’s back when it came to diplomatic affairs. Mr. Obama even pulled the plug on Vice President Joe Biden presiding over the speech to a joint session of Congress, and his administration essentially pulled any official involvement with the Prime Minister’s speech. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Democrats in Congress slowly began to withdraw their attendance from the speech in hopes of sticking it to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner, both of whom are public supporters of Mr. Netanyahu.
So, why was Netanyahu’s win a loss for Obama?
Plain and simple Obama’s legacy in regards to U.S.Israeli relations has already been defined clearly, and there is no chance that President Obama can salvage his reputation of being one of the most lacking supporters of Israel in recent U.S. history. The conflict between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu is interesting and goes beyond the state level. While the two men’s nations have historically had a strong alliance, the personal relationship between the President and Prime Minister has been far from pleasant. President Obama’s dislike for Netanyahu is known around the world, and the Israeli PM has naturally developed his own disdain for Mr. Obama.
Meanwhile, the White House and the Knesset have gone back and forth on a number of issues, most recently over the issue of nuclear negotiations with Iran. While the State Department has been in talks with the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu has continued to be a vocal opponent of negotiations with the ‘Iranian Regime’, and has repeatedly warned the White House of the potential implications that these talks could have on the safety of Israel and the stability of the region. Obama, however, views the opportunity to strike a peace deal with Iran as an opportunity to bolster his diplomatic record as President of the United States.
Now, the question that many are asking is, will Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu come to any sort of common ground in the next 2 and a half years? Some argue that Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu are going to be forced to cooperate on key strategic issues when it comes to peace in the Middle East. On the other hand, many are skeptical of whether or not the two men can come to any sort of agreement on a plethora of issues that are crucial for U.S.Israeli relations. Meanwhile, in a March 2nd interview with Reuters, President Obama remained adamant that disagreements between his administration and Netanyahu were not “permanently destructive”, and rather that the disagreement on the issue of Iranian nuclear talks comes from a lack of understanding on the part of the Israeli government on how U.S. diplomacy works under the Obama administration.
On Election Night in Israel, Likud won in a commanding fashion, and Netanyahu has now been all but guaranteed to continue serving as Prime Minister of Israel, given the support of President Reuven Rivlin in designating Netanyahu to form a government. On Tuesday night in the United States, President Obama and his allies lost an election that would have had significantly different consequences for the President if Herzog and Livni would have won. Now, Mr. Obama has to cope with Mr. Netanyahu for another two years, and after such a resounding victory, Mr. Netanyahu will return to the negotiating table bolstered with the confidence of the election results, which turned out to be strongly in his favor. Only time will tell if Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu can come to any sort of agreement. Odds are, there won’t be any beer summits between the two any time soon.