The Media Line
Tel Aviv, Israel
Arab newspapers barely mentioned Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to go to early elections, some nine months ahead of schedule.
"I don't think anyone's even aware of it - it's not even mentioned on the front page of today's paper," Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East expert at the U.K.'s Chatham House think tank, who is currently in Beirut told The Middle Line. "I think people assume he will be re-elected, so why would it make a difference?"
Palestinian officials, who are perhaps most directly affected by Israel, had little to say.
"It's an internal matter," Nour Oudeh, spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority told The Media Line. "It's not something that we would comment on."
Palestinian analysts said they do not believe the elections will have any effect on the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"In previous situations like this they would be worried that Israeli actions might put the peace process on hold," Ghassan Khatib, a professor of Contemporary Arab Studies at Bir Zeit University and a former government spokesman told The Media Line. "But that is not a concern now because the peace process is already on hold."
Netanyahu announced the early elections, which are expected to be held in mid-February, in a prime-time news conference. He told the public that he made the decision because he is unable to pass the current budget. But most Israeli analysts say that Netanyahu has several reasons for wanting to hold the elections sooner rather than later.
Netanyahu was Prime Minister the first time from 1996 - 1999 and was elected again in 2009. Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, columnist Ari Shavit said that Netanyahu has achieved little in his second term of office after 42 months. He refers to him as "the second Netanyahu."
"The second Netanyahu wanted to preempt bad economic news and bad security news that could undermine his one achievement - stability. The second Netanyahu wanted to quickly end the political wrestling match within Israel so that he will be ready in the spring for the big strategic wrestling match with Iran."
Other analysts say Netanyahu wanted to hold elections before former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can organize a challenge against him. Olmert was convicted of breach of trust in July, but legally can return to politics. He is still on trial for another corruption charge surrounding the building of a large housing project, the Holyland.
Olmert insists that he has not yet decided if he will return to politics, although the Israeli press is rife with speculation that he will. Former army chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi is rumored to be considering joining Olmert. Together they could offer a centrist alternative to Netanyahu.
At the same time, the numbers show that the right-wing bloc headed by Netanyahu will easily defeat any combination of the center-left bloc whether it is headed by Olmert; Shaul Mofaz, another former chief-of-staff; or Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich.
The elections could have implications for Israel's domestic balance-of-power. Labor, which currently holds eight seats in parliament (Knesset), members could double or even triple its representation in the 120-seat body. Kadima, the centrist party which won the most seats of any single party in the last election with 28, is expected to dramatically decrease in strength. A new party headed by political first-timer and TV personality Yair Lapid is expected to show well.
But none of that will matter when it comes to making large foreign policy decisions such as how to deal with Iran's nuclear program or whether to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.
"Whether it is Netanyahu's first, second or third term, he will not move ahead on the Palestinian issue without external pressure from the US," Palestinian analyst Khatib said. "The current situation is unsustainable."
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