New Year wish

From their holiday homes in Hawaii and Massachusetts both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry might have wished for a new partner in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. They will have to wait until later in 2015 to know if this wish comes true, but in the short-term, Wednesday’s Likud-party elections, indicates that Prime Minister Netanyahu is firmly in control of his party and will be a potent foe in the upcoming general election.

This is fact because two things happened yesterday. First, the man who chairs the Likud Central Committee and last year launched an uprising against the prime minister, MK Danny Danon, lost support. MK Moshe Feiglin, of the more right-wing Jewish Home Party also lost support. Both men maintained the theme of the much publicized take-over that ‘lurched’ Likud rightward throughout 2014.

Concern that Netanyahu’s control over the party had weakened, especially faced with several initiatives in the Central Committee over the previous year was real. That Netanyahu defeated them indicates his power as party leader, but in his struggle to do so only enforced fear from party allies and those in the U.S. who pay attention to the inner workings of the Israeli government party politics. But the results of Wednesday’s Likud party primary, show that the prime minister has visibly and decisively regained control of his party.
The result publication also visibly and decisively shows something else regarding Netanyahu’s rivals. MK Haim Katz fell from 12th place in the 2012 primaries to No. 17. MK Moshe Feiglin, who leads the “Jewish leadership” faction on the party’s right-most flank, fell even further, past the 27 slots publicized by the party and beyond the predicted 22-24 seats Likud is likely to win in the next election, according to recent polling.

Of interest for both Obama and Kerry in their quixotic effort for the two-state solution was the published Knesset list in which Netanyahu’s allies and party moderates gained ground. Maybe their dream may come true? This might come to pass because Israeli organized pressure groups within Likud that have opposed Netanyahu in recent years did not gain ground. The organized pressure group of primary voters that has had an outsized influence on Likud institutions in recent years were not able to replicate previous success. However, some further concern for the American led peace effort is who did make it. Politicians who support annexation of the West Bank and oppose a Palestinian state in the West Bank, such as Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, MK Miri Regev, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin all made the top ten slots on the list.

Second, while the new list did not erase the ideological divide within Likud, the political message was strong and unequivocal, a message the Obama administration, should take note of as 2015 gets underway. Likud’s rank and file, rightists and centrists alike, rallied around their leader.

The election campaign will not be easy. American politics is often messy, but what most American politicians, including administration officials don’t know is that Israeli elections are more often than not even more messy and unpredictable. So, while Obama’s New Year wish may come true, at the moment Prime Minister Netanyahu is firmly in control of his party and that makes him a potent candidate on Election Day.

About the Author
Dr. Aaron Walter teaches International Relations. He writes on American foreign policy towards Israel. In addition to topics directly related to U.S.-Israeli politics, he has written on the presidency and security studies as linked to U.S., Europe, and Israeli studies
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