The usually perspicacious Walter Russell Mead makes a dubious assumption regarding the just-announced new political alignment in Israel. (A new, broad centrist alignment has formed and Netanyahu has canceled the forthcoming elections.)
By contrast, the new centrist coalition relegates extreme parties to its fringe, increases Netanyahu’s maneuverability on everything from Iran to the economy to the peace process, and allows him to embark on much-needed electoral reform to reduce the influence on small extremist parties. But just as crucially, the new government will also put greater internal pressure on Netanyahu to deal with the Palestinians (Kadima and Mofaz are on record in support of a more conciliatory approach).
It is a mixed picture for Obama. On the one hand, this government may be a little easier to work with on Palestinian issues; on the other, it may be politically easier for the Israelis to launch an attack against Iran.
Keeping up the pressure against Iran, consulting with Israel as nuclear negotiations proceed, and looking for ways to start some kind of meaningful discussion between Israelis and Palestinians looks like the most fruitful course the US administration’s Middle East diplomacy could take right now. For President Obama, who has pretty much been locked into a tough policy approach to Iran without being able to get anything significant from the Israelis on negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, that looks like a step forward.
If he plays his cards well, and if he is lucky (always a vital component of successful policy moves in the Middle East), President Obama just might emerge as the victor in Israel’s election that never was.
Mead’s, admittedly tentative, conclusion has a major weakness. It depends on the Palestinians, or a significant component of them, actually wanting a two-state solution. Sadly, there is little evidence of that. Less and less, in fact.