William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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ISRAELI ELECTION – AT 9:39 A.M. ET:  An Israeli election is important to us because Israel is a major anchor of American policy in the Mideast.   Yesterday's election in Israel produced surprising results, with possibly serious implications.

The right-wing bloc and the center-left bloc deadlocked at 60 seats each in the 120-member parliament.  That means that the prime minister must negotiate a coalition in order to form a government.  In all probability that prime minister will still be Bibi Netanyahu, although the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, can still ask someone else to try to form a working majority.   It's unlikely he will, as Netanyahu's party, although reduced in power, still got more votes than anyone else.

Predictions, though, of a turn to the right in Israel proved false.  If anything, a new coalition will have more voices from the center and left.  We'll see the negotiating start within a few days.

Netanyahu and Obama have had a famously contentious relationship, mishandled by both sides.  Obama is an amateur, and Netanyahu has been constrained by his currently narrow coalition.  We can be hopeful that the broader coalition likely to emerge can give Netanyahu some running room.

The major issue that both the U.S. and Israel face in the Mideast is the Iranian nuclear program.  I believe Americans vastly underestimate the potential impact of that program on American security.  As we've said before, two Iranian nuclear devices sailed into American ports in the holds of cargo ships, and set off by suicide squads, would change history, and not for the better.

Obviously the Israel-Palestinian conflict is also high on Obama's agenda, if lower on Netanyahu's.  Currently the Palestinians are in their traditional disarray, and we aren't really sure who will emerge as their leader over the next few years. 

We'll follow the internal negotiations in Israel.  At the same time, we must not avert our eyes from the horror of Syria, where 60,000 lie dead, or the continuing deterioration in Egypt, where the new government is hardly emerging as a model of democracy or tolerance.

Obama barely mentioned foreign policy in his contentious inaugural address.  The world will remind him.

January 23, 2013