Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory is bad news for American-Israeli ties. With the man that has politicized the relationship unlike anyone before heading Israel’s new government, the bilateral climate will remain icy.
It is probably not a stretch to imagine US President Barack Obama in the White House shaking his head in disbelief and disappointment after watching Israeli Premier Netanyahu pull off a win in the country's election squeaker yesterday.
After all, Netanyahu, in what can only be considered a personal affront days before the election went before the US Congress to attack Obama's prime international project, a nuclear deal with Tehran. While most analysts described the move as a low-blow to US-Israeli relations, judging from Tuesday's results, Netanyahu's late electioneering - courtesy of the Republican Party – seemingly did the trick.
"It is a great victory for Netanyahu, a remarkable last minute victory, taking a page from the book from many Republicans in the United States with whom he has identified," said Steven Spiegel, director of the Center for Middle East Development at UCLA.
"Netanyahu's last-minute scare tactics and fear mongering appears to have paid off," said Dov Waxman, co-director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Culture, and Development at Northeastern University.
Electing a new government led by challenger Yitzhak Herzog would have been like pushing the restart button for Israeli-American relations. Correspondingly, another term for Netanyahu as prime minister is like hitting the pause button for ties with the Obama administration.
"It's no secret that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama do not get along, and the relationship has further deteriorated since Netanyahu's ill-conceived speech to Congress, which only served to politicize the relationship," said Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the Rand Corporation.
Like a Republican victory
While the Republican Party had aligned itself very closely with Netanyahu and his Likud Party in recent years, the Congress speech and the letter by 47 Republican Senators to Tehran, both bashing Obama's nuclear talks within days of each other, established a new norm.
This politicization has led to the unique situation "where a Netanyahu victory in Israel is seen as a win for the GOP in the United States," said Kaye. "This is not in the US national interest, but the reelection of Netanyahu is only likely to worsen this crisis and partisan divide."
As a result, "more Americans will divide their support for Israel from their opposition to Netanyahu," predicted Spiegel. "This distinction will be particularly profound in the American Jewish community, which is likely to be more divided than ever."
Another slammed door
In fact, by strongly stating his opposition to a Palestinian state in the last hours of the election campaign Netanyahu slammed the door for good on another key American objective in the region – the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"The Israeli-Palestinian peace process will definitely not be resurrected if a rightwing government is formed in Jerusalem," said Waxman.
Coupled with Netanyahu's opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran, that puts Israel at loggerheads with the US on two of the most important issues for the Obama administration in the region.
With the claims staked so clearly between Netanyahu and the White House, expectations are bleak for bilateral ties.
"If Netanyahu heads the next Israeli government, this will be very bad for US-Israeli relations for the next two years," said Waxman.