Bibi Settlement Plan May Be Aimed at Elections

Retaliation Bad for Diplomacy, But Good at Ballot Box?

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By Reuters

Published December 04, 2012.
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And in an aside by Netanyahu during a visit to the United States, Israel’s main ally, he appeared to indicate he shared those sentiments.

“Americans get it,” he said, referring to arguments he has made in support of his government’s policies. “Europeans don’t.”

That has not always been the case as far as U.S. President Barack Obama is concerned, particularly on the settlement issue and the open question of whether Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear programme in defiance of Washington’s calls to give diplomatic options more time.

But Obama has never been at the top of Israelis’ popularity lists and friction between the two leaders seems not to have hurt Netanyahu in the opinion polls, which predict he will coast to victory in the upcoming ballot.

VOTER EXPECTATIONS

Tamir Sheafer, a political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said Netanyahu’s settlement move was “what his voters expect of him” and stemmed from internal political considerations.

“Maybe they are worried in (Netanyahu’s) Likud that right-wing voters will opt instead for (the far-right religious)Habayit Hayehudi party,” Sheafer said.

So far, European anger over the settlement plan has not led to any sanctions against Israel. Any punitive measures before the election would fuel arguments made by Netanyahu’s political opponents that he was deepening its diplomatic isolation.

“I think there are electoral considerations (behind Netanyahu’s settlement moves),” said Gideon Rahat, a Hebrew University political scientist. “But he’s also used to (Europe and the United States) not bothering him much and now they seem to have changed the rules of the game.”

Still, Sheafer said, “something very unusual or unexpected would have to happen for the next government not to be headed by Netanyahu - it’s very simple mathematics, the centre-left simply doesn’t have enough parliamentary seats” to form a coalition.

With details of the future settler housing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem still sketchy and Israeli officials saying any construction in E1 would be more than a year away, Israel and Europe still have room to manoeuvre.

“We don’t know where these units will be built. I don’t think anyone knows. They are probably scurrying around now trying to figure out where they will be built,” said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli expert on settlements.

“This announcement was made for dramatic effect. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, it means the dramatic effect precedes the decision,” Seidemann said.

Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister who is running in the upcoming poll as the head of a new centrist party, said in a statement that Netanyahu’s settlement move “isolates Israel and encourages international pressure”.

But she also appeared to suggest that Netanyahu might be bluffing.

“In any case (the construction) won’t happen,” she said.


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