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Netanyahu may be tossed out by Israel voters in elections

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NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Saturday, March 14, 2015, 6:50 PM

JIM HOLLANDER/EPA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks to be in trouble with Israeli voters, who may be poised to boot him from office in the Tuesday elections.

WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a big hit with the U.S. Congress, but he looks to be in trouble with Israeli voters, who may be poised to boot him from office in the Tuesday elections.

The ouster of Netanyahu would rid President Obama of perhaps his least favorite head of an allied state. It also would likely help mend damaged U.S.-Israeli relations that hit a low with Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this month, where he attacked a potential nuclear agreement with Iran to rapturous Republican cheers.

A Netanyahu loss — polls show him finishing a close second to the left-leaning Isaac Herzog-Tzipi Livni ticket — also could boost Obama’s diplomatic efforts in the region, in particular by helping restart moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, experts say.

Polls show Netanyahu finishing a close second to the left-leaning Isaac Herzog (right)-Tzipi Livni (left) ticket.BAZ RATNER/REUTERS

Polls show Netanyahu finishing a close second to the left-leaning Isaac Herzog (right)-Tzipi Livni (left) ticket.

Because U.S. policy toward Israel has been frozen in a wait-and-see mode, even if Netanyahu hangs on, the outcome may still spark attempts by both countries to improve ties.

“Relations have never been worse,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told the News this week. “I would hope that after the election, if Bibi is re-elected, that there might be some effort to restore those relations. And if he is not, I would hope that with a new government there would be an effort to restore relations.”

Days before the vote, Israeli polls projected Netanyahu’s Likud Party to fall several seats short of the opposing Zionist Union party, a coalition of Israel’s Labor party, led by Herzog, and Livni’s Hatnuah party, which backs peace talks with Palestinians. Herzog and Livni have agreed to rotate as prime minister should their party win, with Herzog serving the first two years and Livni the second half of the term.

It may be days after the Tuesday election before the outcome is determined. That’s because it is likely that whoever wins will have to engage in prolonged deal making with smaller political parties in order to put together a majority governing coalition. Further complicating the picture is the uniting of Israel’s once-marginal Arab factions into a single potentially formidable political party which polls show in third place behind Netanyahu.

The dynamic of the elections has very much revolved around Netanyahu focusing on Israel’s security, while Herzog-Livni have turned their attention the nation’s extraordinarily high cost of living and domestic problems.

“If the prime minister loses, it will send a message that what he did wasn’t helpful to Israelis,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), referring to his speech to Congress, which she attended but clearly was not happy was taking place.

Netanyahu’s March 3 address to Congress, which he agreed to give without consulting the White House, angered Democrats. They said he used the occasion to try to bolster his reelection effort and help Republicans’ bid to embarrass Obama, crossing a line by mixing the domestic politics of the two countries.

Netanyahu has taken heavy criticism at home for the speech, which was just the latest sign of long-simmering animosity between Obama and the prime minister.

While Herzog and Livni share Netanyahu’s opposition to the potential deal with Iran, they differ sharply with the prime minister on negotiations with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s governing coalition includes ultra-Orthodox backers whose support he would lose if he made concessions to the Palestinians, such as slowing construction of settlements in the West Bank, that many see as necessary steps toward a peace deal.

“Herzog would probably make more supportive gestures toward the Palestinians” if he wins, said Neri Zilber, a visiting scholar the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The White House would give him more space on the peace process.”

dfriedman@nydailynews.com


Nation / World – NY Daily News

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