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Tags: Israel | Netanyahu

Israel Expert: Netanyahu, Facing Discontent, Maneuvering to Save Job

By    |   Friday, 12 December 2014 03:24 PM EST

With a new poll showing that 60 percent of Israelis want a change in leadership, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scrambling — firing cabinet ministers and calling for new elections in a bid to hang on to power, an expert in modern Israeli politics told Newsmax TV on Friday.

But in gambling on a quick re-election, the conservative Likud Party leader and former Israeli special forces officer might be misreading national opinion, political science professor Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania told "America's Forum" co-hosts JD Hayworth and Ed Berliner.

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With Israeli politics dominated of late by center-right alliances, "the assumption by Netanyahu was not that he would lose power, but that he would gain power again with a better right-wing majority and a better, more manageable coalition," said Lustick.

"However, what's happening is that the polls are showing that there's so much dissatisfaction with the way he's been handling the government … that there's been a return to viability of the left-center, and that's thrown up the cards for what this next coalition [government] will mean," he said.

Netanyahu, now in his second go-round as prime minister, shut down his current ruling coalition last week, firing two centrist cabinet members with whom he'd feuded and calling for new elections well ahead of schedule.

Lawmakers then voted to dissolve the current parliament and prepare for the snap election on March 17.

Turmoil and turnover are not new to Israel's multi-party political system, and Israeli voters continue to support military action to curb uprisings in the occupied Palestinian territories. Polls also show that hard-liners opposed to any Palestinian overtures could actually gain strength in a new government.

But even with tensions high following a year of violent clashes, and with security still a major concern, Israelis sound increasingly fed up, or fatigued, with Netanyahu — and on both foreign and domestic policy, said Lustick.

"Most Israelis do want to keep Israel safe. The question is how do you do that," said Lustick, citing a poll last week in the Jerusalem Post. "Sixty percent of Israelis who are saying they want anybody but Netanyahu to be prime minister … and don't think that what he's doing is keeping Israel particularly safe."

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Criticism of Israel in the United Nations — another constant — has mounted over civilian deaths and property damage arising from this summer's warfare in Gaza, and in response to continued housing construction for Jewish settlers in disputed West Bank territories.

European countries are also stepping up opposition. Ireland's parliament, in a symbolic vote on Wednesday, unanimously backed recognition for an independent Palestinian state, following a similar move by Sweden amid calls for Europe-wide talks on Palestinian statehood.

The statehood push is opposed by Israel and its strongest ally, the United States, as premature.

But relations between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are strained, with prospects for a U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace looking remote, and talk even surfacing of U.S. sanctions against Israel over the housing issue.

Lustick said that the Obama administration isn't trying to manipulate internal Israeli politics in order to push Netanyahu out — or at least "not in any way that American administrations haven't always tried" when seeking Israeli political partners "more attuned to American interests," he said.

"What's been happening is for years is, the situation has moved further and further away from where negotiations could really lead to a viable Palestinian state," said Lustick. "There are over half a million Israeli settlers in the West Bank and the whole constellation of power in Israel is dead set against providing enough [territory] for Palestinians to have a viable state."

"It's in that context we have to understand why Netanyahu is going for new elections, and why the people in Israel are so unhappy with him: because he is so clumsy in the way new settlements are created just at the worst possible time," said Lustick.

"The Israelis struggle now is against the world that's increasingly critical of it, especially after the Gaza war," he said.

A new Israeli government would be "unlikely to move the country toward a two-state solution," said Lustick, "but might be much better at defending itself against this cascade of criticism coming out of the UN and Europe."

Lustick also said that the image of Netanyahu among his admirers in the U.S. — tough, principled and steadfast in his political dealings and defense of his country — is not uniformly shared in Israel.

"His reputation is someone who tells the last person he sees that he's really on his side," said Lustick. "The rap on him from the right in Israel has been that he does not stick to his guns."

"If you watch his career, he's zigged and zagged in every possible way," said Lustick, "and the only really consistent theme has been what can preserve Benjamin Netanyahu's opportunities to be in power.

"Of course that's not unusual for politicians," he added.

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With a new poll showing that 60 percent of Israelis want a change in leadership, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scrambling — firing cabinet ministers and calling for new elections in a bid to hang on to power, an expert in modern Israeli politics told Newsmax TV on Friday.
Israel, Netanyahu
Friday, 12 December 2014 03:24 PM
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