William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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ISRAEL VOTES – AT 8:31 A.M. ET:  Israel goes to the polls today in a major national election.  It is expected that Bibi Netanyahu will once again emerge as prime minister, with some predicting that his new government will be further to the right than his current one. 

I'd wait a bit on that.  The Israeli system favors proportional representation, a mechanism I don't care for.  It is, in a way, too democratic.  Parties go in and out of existence, majorities are hard to come by, and the Knesset (parliament) is badly divided.  I prefer our two-party system, which is more stable, if allowing for less nuance. 

But Israel is indeed a democracy, if a somewhat cumbersome one.  Freedom House just a few days ago rated it as the only truly free country in the Mideast.  If Bibi emerges at the top again, he will try to put together a governing coalition.  Yes, there could be a rightward tilt, but not necessarily.  If the center-left parties do well, Bibi could go for a fully representative "national unity" government.

The 900-pound elephant in the room, of course, is Bibi's poor relationship with President Obama, who came into office with an antagonism toward Netanyahu that reflected Obama's far-left views and his cultural background.  Obama's recent petulance and displays of rancor and immaturity toward anyone who disagrees with him do not bode well for improvement in the relationship with Netanyahu. 

One of the things we've noticed since yesterday's inaugural address is the disappointment felt by many, including nominal Obama allies, over its minimizing of foreign policy, and the generally small-minded approach of the speech.  This morning's editorial page of the Washington Post, a pro-Obama paper, features a somewhat startling admonition to the president about his handling of the Israeli prime minister.  In many respects, this is a stunning rebuke:

This disturbing trend is partly the result of Mr. Obama’s poor handling of Israel, which he has not visited and where he is widely regarded as supportive of the nation’s defense but unsympathetic to its psyche. If the White House were trying to undercut Mr. Netanyahu, it would be guilty of the same poor judgment the Israeli leader showed in tilting toward Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential race. No scenario contemplated by political analysts foresees anyone other than Mr. Netanyahu emerging as prime minister from the bargaining that will follow Tuesday’s election.

And...

...the wise U.S. policy would be to concede, and maybe even welcome, Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection while quietly urging him to construct a centrist government. In the coming months Israel and the United States will likely have an urgent need to communicate clearly and cooperate closely on the threat of Iran’s nuclear program; and they must try to preserve the prospect of Palestinian statehood. Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu may be political foils, but as each begins a new term their deeper interest lies in a reset of their relationship.

COMMENT:  I find it interesting that the Post lectures the president on how to handle a foreign leader.  By this time in their presidency, presidents are supposed to know.

January 22,  2013