Media Call on Israeli Elections

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters
Robert M. Danin
Justin Vogt

CFR senior fellows Robert M. Danin and Elliott Abrams discuss the ramifications of the Israeli election. Justin Vogt from Foreign Affairs magazine presides over the call.

OPERATOR:  Excuse me, everyone.  We now have all of our speakers in conference.  Please be aware that each of your lines is in a listen-only mode.

At the conclusion of today's presentation, we will open the floor for questions.  At that time, instructions will be given as to the procedure to follow if you would like to ask a question.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Justin Vogt.  Mr. Vogt, you may begin.

VOGT:  Thanks very much.  Good morning, everyone.  Of course, we're here today to speak about the elections in Israel yesterday, top story in most of the news organizations today.

In some way it's a surprising result, in other ways maybe not so surprising.  We're going to talk about what it means going forward, why the results were what they were, and—and a whole bunch of other interesting topics that—that this opens up.

We're joined today—we're very fortunate to have from Tel Aviv, Robert M. Danin.  He is the Eni Enrico Matteri senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies here at the Council.

Good morning, Rob.  Good morning, Elliott.

DANIN:  Good afternoon from where I'm sitting.

VOGT:  That's right.  Good afternoon.  Well, let's start with Rob.  Actually, you're—you're in Tel Aviv.  And what I want to do just to ask you very quickly to give me your basic impression of the election, the results, your sense of how it's being—how it's being processed there, and maybe some sense of a—of a short-term forecast about the efforts to form a government in the wake of—in the wake of the election.

DANIN:  Sure.  Well, first of all, I'd start off by saying that, you know, had the election been held a few weeks ago and we would have produced a strong Netanyahu victory.  I think people would have been taken it as sort of somewhat of a given and likely.  And they may have had some kudos for the fact that the Labor Party under—under Herzog did pretty well nonetheless and having, you know, risen by about 10 feet from what the earlier polls had been expecting.

But given that in the last week before the election and in particular last Friday when three of the polls where showing that the national camp or the Zionist camp under Herzog was polling of three or four seats ahead, it builds an expectation and a buzz that Netanyahu was going to lose.

And the narrative—the dominant narrative was, you know, everyone is against Bibi and this is going to take Bibi down.  And so Israelis got their first shock last night at 10 o'clock when the polls were—the first exit polls were released and it was forecasted to be a tie at 27-27.

They then received their second shock when they woke up this morning to discover that the—the spread was much wider and that Netanyahu had won 30 seats and Buji Herzog had won 24, and so it was a clear victory without any sort of margin of error.  And so there—it is seen as a decisive victory for Netanyahu, a decisive victory for—for the Likud.

And some of the reasons—I don't know if you want me to get into that with the initial—this initial take or not, but, you know, some of it had to do with the fact that because of the Friday polls, frankly, it seems to have unleashed Netanyahu.  You saw that he was losing.  He attacked very hard to the right.

Because of the new electoral system in which his party needs to take a certain number (inaudible) to get to the Knesset and take seats, there was a process what is being called, you know, cannibalization that each block aid its own.  And so labor aids part of merits and in turn, Netanyahu went after—went after the right-wing parties Bennett and Lieberman and succeeded, and—and so that's part of what has produced the results.

Now, I would say because of the coalition that—or because of the results that have been produced, the 30 seats is the decisive victory, if you will.  And the way that the rest of the results have been come down, the conventional wisdom here today, which we see can change very quickly is that Netanyahu will be able to form a government relatively easily a right-wing government of 67 seats that will include both religious parties, and I can break it down even further.

But the—you know, so the clear—you know, Netanyahu is the clear victor where today though it look like he was heading for a big defeat.

VOGT:  Eli, let me—let me pick up on something that Rob said on that and put it to you.  You had mentioned actually in a—in a post that you wrote over our national review that Bibi actually likes to see himself, but Netanyahu likes to see himself more as a—a sort of balancer in a coalition.

And I wonder, you know, Rob just sort of presented a forecast that what's most likely to happen is a—is a right-wing government in which Bibi would sort of be at the left—on the left, you know, relatively to the other parties.  What do you think about the chances that that, you know, that's where we're headed or is there any chance at all that Netanyahu would try to seek a broader coalition, some sort of unity government?

ABRAMS:  I think it's very unlikely with this—with the margin of victory.  And the point you raise I think is correct about Netanyahu sometimes preferring to be at the center of his own—or frequently the center of his own government, not at the left-wing edge.  And had he been, you know, one or two seats ahead, that would have been much more likely.

Now, he will presumably have a new Kulanu Party of Moshe Kahlon.  And Kahlon is a lifelong recruited guy who has very strong views on the economy, but less pronounced views on relations with the Palestinians or foreign policy.  So that won't—that won't have a large effect on those issues.  So I think—I think it's much more likely that we're heading for a right-wing government.

He could—Bibi could try to include Lapid and his seats.  He got 11 seats.  That would be a stronger government numerically.  But I mean, there will be some jockeying now because, of course, as you include people you have to give them ministerial positions and sub-ministerial positions.

For example, the former ambassador to United States Michael Oren ran with Kahlon.  Kahlon is—is in the catbird seat here in terms of forming a coalition that gives Bibi a good margin in the Knesset, then you would presumably see Oren taking a job like deputy foreign minister.  All these negotiations now have to take place.

One of the questions is how many seats does Netanyahu really want to aim for.  You need 61, but obviously, that's a government that is much more open to difficulties in the Knesset than one that would say include this new centrist party of Kahlon and might have 67, 68 seats.

I—I just want to emphasize one thing Rob said, which is there has been a trend in previous elections in Israel for small parties to be more and more powerful.  And this election moved back to the two main parties, Labor and Likud.  It also shows that Israeli pollsters, including exit pollsters, are going to have a lot of report to do to explain why they got it wrong.

VOGT:  You know, do you think that trend back—that backward trend towards a stronger center is actually reflective of the electorate or is that likely to be a one-off and that the larger trend actually continues towards more fragmentation and—and a kind of more disparate Israeli electorate sort of the hive often to various smaller interest groups?  Do you—do you think that that actually is—that trend is now signaling that that's over?  Is this a bleep or is this really the beginning of a—of a retrenchment to the center?

ABRAMS:  Hold on for just a minute.  Let me answer it and then turn it to Rob.

VOGT:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  It's not an ideological change.  The actual total number of votes for right and left changed very little, maybe one seat, so it's not—it is a matter of how the electorate is voting within the two blocks—right-wing and left-wing for small parties like a Bennett's party or like the Meretz' party on the left or like Lieberman's party.  And they're not, and instead they're voting more for the two main parties in each ideological block, so this is an electoral change, but not an ideological change.

Rob, do you agree?

DANIN:  I think 300 percent.  I mean, what happens was you had on the verge of the election, it looked like some of these—the small parties like Meretz, like Lieberman's party, it was a question whether they were going to even survive the election and because if they didn't get four seats, they would have lost everything.  This is what happened to one of the religious parties already.  And so that was one factor.  And the fact that you had such—this cannibalization push both sides to extreme position.  But as Elliot rightly put, you have two very distinct blocks.

One of the Israeli column, let's put it, and I really liked it that this was—election was about metro versus retro.  And, you know, here in Tel Aviv, which is the metro view, it's a very, you know, it was a world view, which is very much Mediterranean and future-looking and secular largely, you know, but this is only one part of Israel and there's another part, which is, you know, more to the right, much more nationalistic, much more traditional, it's not religious.  And these are two distinct world views that have obtained for a long time, so this is nothing new.

We've seen this since at least 1977 when Begin had the first real major upheaval in Israeli politics and broke the monopoly of the Labor Party, which had won every election until then.

And you've had this tug-of-war between left and right.  As Elliott rightly put out, he's had this increased organization for some of these kind of issue parties, you know, from everything from marijuana rights to all sorts of interest groups.  That is now going away back towards more kind of mainstream parties that have to represent you know, a plethora of—of positions on a number of different issues.

VOGT:  Let me—let me follow-up on that with a question for both of you, and I'll ask you for both of your response to this.

In order to attract some of those—the voters from—who have drifted into the sort of smaller, more fringy right-wing parties over the years, people—some analysts have looked at what Netanyahu did in the ending phase of the campaign as really going towards a much harder right line even a sort of desperate gambit (ph) in some sense.

Let me read you a sentence from today's editorial in today's New York Times and let me get your—your reaction to it.  The Times wrote, "Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's outright rejection of a Palestinian state and his racist rant against Israeli-Arab voters on Tuesday showed that he has forfeited any claim to representing all Israelis."  Now, this is in reference, of course, to some comments that Netanyahu made on Monday about the idea that there won't be a Palestinian state if he is prime minister."

And then yesterday, this video that was put out on social media, which showed the prime minister warning that right-wing rule was threatened because Arab-Israeli voters were coming to the polls in droves.

Let me ask for your—Eli, let me ask you first for your reaction to that sentiment that the time is kind of captured, which is—which is you're seeing a lot of at least on the center-left and left side of American and some Israeli commentary.  What's your reaction to that?

ABRAMS:  Well, I thought the Times editorial was—it sounded like the kind of things we're used to seeing in the nation.  I mean, it was way over the (inaudible) in its denunciation of Netanyahu.

You know, here is the—here is the fair denunciation of Netanyahu.  You know who he is?  He is a politician, and he made some electoral promises here, but he used very careful language.

For example, on the Palestinian state issue, we can come back to that around the question of settlement.  I'd like to come back to that.  But, you know, Netanyahu has been attacked from the right for years for being, if you will, too prudent.  The way he has conducted affairs with Palestinians and—and the way he has conducted settlement policy has dissatisfied the settlers and people like that who are much to his right.

So, yes, I mean, he used a lot of hot rhetoric in the final days in order to consolidate support from Likud rather than parties to its right.  How does a politician who wants to win do that?  He does it by saying, "If you don't vote for me all of these terrible things are going to happen."  And his tactic, which I think we can fairly call "scare tactics" worked.  I'm not sure they give us much insight into how he's going to govern.

VOGT:  Rob, do you agree in a sense that very careful language overly cautious are now sort of taking a stronger line?  What was your reaction to that—to Netanyahu's remarks?

DANIN:  Well, I'll tell you how I saw—I hear Israelis reacting to it, I mean, I think...

VOGT:  Sure.

DANIN: know, I think that the sense is—look, it depends on your politics, right?  If you're—if you have the last stand, there's a sense that, you know, the true Bibi came out and he was—he unmasked himself.  And the Bibi we always thought existed finally said what, you know, he's been hiding.  If you're—if you see him as the pragmatist or a value (ph) put it a politician then you just say—he said whatever it took to get elected.

But those—I think the sentiment today is he won, and so whatever he did it worked.  And I think the left feels—the center-left feels defeated.  And so the—in that sense the Times editorial, I don't think is right because I think that there's no single candidate to would have—who's positions represented the views of all of Israel.  This is a polarized country to say the least.  And so, you know, he came out very with a lot of ugly rhetoric.  I don't—I don't think it was perceived as careful by many people of the center and the left.  They thought it's demagogic and reckless, and dangerous.

I think there's a fear here now about what's going to happen.  There's a fear for two reasons.  One is a sense that because he's going to be able to put together a strong government, so goes the conventional wisdom, then, you know, we're in for four years and that there won't be a strong opposition.  I don't know if that's true or not.  It's just today's—you know, that's the hangover response, you know.

And second I think is because it's going to be a strong right government, there's a sense that he is going to pursue policies that are going to appeal to that constituency.  And so, you know, that's I think where at least, you know, many in the center of Israel are today.

VOGT:  How are you putting the electoral politics, the electoral political strategy, you know, of campaign rhetoric (inaudible)?  You had mentioned the issue of the settlements and Netanyahu is likely larger kind of tactical or strategic approach to that.  Tell me a little bit about what you—you see happening underneath the rhetoric.

ABRAMS:  Right.  Well, this is—these are interesting questions.  If you look at the data, the fact is—and the Central Bureau of Statistics data came out about 10 days ago, Netanyahu has slowed down settlement construction, particularly in the smaller settlements beyond the Israeli security barrier.

The number of units in—in the smaller settlements below 10,000 residents grows very slowly compared to the number of people in the major blocks that Israel expects to keep.  And the overall expansion of settlements is really down.  It dropped last year by about half.  That is in 2014.

So what Netanyahu is really doing is constraining settlement group beyond the fence, which is totally consonant with actually permitting some of the eight Palestinian states.  Netanyahu never talked about this and, of course, the left never talked about it either.  He doesn't want to take credit.  They are only given credit, but the numbers—the numbers are there.

Where I think we should look now two areas in a new right-wing government.  Number one, does that settlement policy changed?  Do the settlers have more cloud in a new government.

Second question is on religious issues, which are divisive within Israel and in the global Jewish community.  If his new coalition relies in part on all of the haredi religious parties, the ultra-Orthodox religious party, what will their demands be?  And if their demands are, for example, money for their schools, that's not so divisive.

But Israel recently passed a law about the drafting of military-age haredi men, is that going to get enforced?  Is that going to go reversed?  That's a question that's very divisive in Israel.

And then there are the questions about, for example, recognition of marriages and other religious ceremonies performed by non-Orthodox rabbis both in Israel and abroad, and about the question of the religious status of Russian-Jewish immigrants, very divisive in Israel, likely to be a demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties.  And I think that's what a lot of the Israelis are watching about and worrying about in the new government.

VOGT:  There's also, of course, the pocketbook issues, the economic issues and, you know, we've mentioned Moshe Kahlon who is sort of the most recent and a line of younger Israeli politicians that are seen as sort of possibly changing the face of the Israeli politics, but, of course, most of the time they seem to have fizzled.  Kahlon is a bit of a (inaudible).

And now, Rob, I want to ask you how we—in the States we tend to talk about when we look at Israel, we say, "Oh, (inaudible) Israeli-Palestinian debate," the Iran question, which we can get to in a minute as well.  But, of course, Israeli voters seem to have other things on their mind.  Elliott mentioned some of them at least on the right sort of questions about culture and religion.  What about the pocketbook issues, the economic issues, how much as we going to be (inaudible) going forward some of these other more sort of hot button security issues fade as Netanyahu's government has to face these calls for more equitable sort of socioeconomic arrangement?

DANIN:  Well, hi.  My sense of that—those issues did not really play.  First of all, and the Palestinians were largely invisible from this election both in reality and in the debate.  And Iran as well, you know, as Elliott put it, it was uncertain—I mean, there was a certain chance that Bibi was fear-mongering.

And yet, and this is where the polls kind of, at the end, play the role.  The sense that, you know, the design of camps have as their campaign platform is us or him.  And it's played into a narrative that helps Netanyahu in the end because in a sense it looked like the country was gaining up on Netanyahu and—and he flashed out and it worked.  And so people—up until then people were angry and frustrated and the sense was Netanyahu is going to lose precisely because he was not addressing those socioeconomic issues.

He came out in interviews towards the end and said, "You're right, I didn't do as good a job as I should have.  I'll do better.  And there was no real effective response.  And so he is going to be on the hook for that and that's where Kahlon is going to come in, and that's why he have—immediately has offered the Finance Ministry to Kahlon just as he offered Lapid the Finance Ministry in the last election in the last government.  And so (inaudible) that that's a poisoned chalice because it means that candidates who then becomes the finance minister is going to ask to deliver...

VOGT:  Do you think Kahlon has a better chance of delivering than—than Lapid?  Are you more confident in his ability to address these issues?  Lapid didn't really manage to make much headway.

DANIN:  I don't think it's about the minister, I think it's putting too much eggs in one—in one carton, I mean, so you expect one minister to change the whole economy and solve all of Israel the fundamental economic challenges is just, you know, unrealistic.

VOGT:  Right.

DANIN:  You know, he's still the finance minister for a prime minister.  And, you know, ultimately, (inaudible) going to have to address these income inequality issues, a lot of the global issues, you know, issues that are being—that are being confronted in other ways and democracies as we see across Europe.  You know, this is part of a larger phenomenon.  The Netanyahu government—the next Netanyahu government is going to have to address these and have some real answers to them.

But—so yes, they're going to have to—these are going to be—you know, Netanyahu is going to be on the hook, and he probably will become unpopular again.  You know, this is not a popularity contest at the end of the day, but defense of being attacked (inaudible) at the end helps Netanyahu when it just seemed to be as getting too much—getting to be too much.  At least that is how some of the analysts here are explaining it to me today.

VOGT:  Sure.  We're going to—we're going to open up the call to generalists and others who are on the line.

Before we—before we do that, I do—I just want to—I'm going to ask one last thing and then we'll open it up.

Let's just talk very briefly about US-Israeli relationship.  Any—that was the focus of a lot of attention here at least in New York and Washington with Netanyahu's speech to Congress, the question of Obama and Netanyahu's relationship.  What's your—what—does this election have any particular effect on that and is it—you know, is that even an interesting or important question going forward?

ABRAMS:  Well, obviously, we have a problem here between Netanyahu and Obama.  I would hope the White House would internalize that the attacks on Netanyahu, calling him names and so forth, appear to have, in the end, strengthened him rather than weakened him.  The notion—traditionally, if an Israeli prime minister had bad relations with Washington, that was almost a sentence of political depth.

Obviously, that didn't happen this time.  And I wonder if the White House would now adopt a view that it should really—you know, he's there for the rest of Obama's term, so maybe it's possible to just turn down the heat.


DANIN:  I think if I can just...

VOGT:  Yes, Rob, what's your—yeah, please, please jump in before we open up.

DANIN:  Just to say I think, you know, both sides now are going to want the tone down the rhetoric.  I mean, everyone recognizes that it was an election.  They knew had—you know, it was explained very strongly here on the radio comments by Jen Psaki, you know, noting that, you know, basically saying we—the United States understand that Israel is in an election right now and people say things in elections.

So there's going to be a mutual desire to ramp it back somewhat.  But I also think there is a structural problem, which is the personalities of the two men who now have six years of accumulated history, and that's going to put limits on how far—how much they can go together.

But, you know, the reality is that while the United States is, you know, loved and beloved here in Israel, President Obama is not.  And so—and so the attacks that came from—or the perceived enmity between the countries just did not hurt Netanyahu in a way it has, for example, Yitzhak Shamir when we ran a file of President Bush in 1991.

VOGT:  OK.  Let—the—let's take our first question and just the moderator is going to turn it over and identify the name and affiliation of the questioner.  So let's—let's begin.

Operator:  OK.  At this time, we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by 1 key on your touchtone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.  If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, please just press star-1.  Again, to ask a question, please press star-1.

And our first question comes from Stewart Ain with the Jewish Week New York.

QUESTION:  I'm just wondering if you think Bibi can walk back now from this comment that they will not be a Palestinian state under my watch.

VOGT:  Well, my own (inaudible) Elliott he doesn't have much walking back to do.  I think the reason that it didn't—he said, you know, his watch is a couple of years.  No Israeli really believes there's going to be a Palestinian state in the next couple of years anyway.  They are not even negotiating.  They haven't been negotiating.

And as Rob said, this was not an issue in the campaign mostly because Israelis generally don't believe they have a partner in President Abbas and no one expects a quick move to a Palestinian state.  He didn't say never.  He said anyone who tried to create a Palestinian state today what—with the ISIS just across the border and so forth would be—I forget his language would be nuts basically.

So I think the problem for him is not that language as much as it is, more generally the lack of negotiations is harmful to Israel particularly in Europe.  And it's hard to see now how negotiations really get started even if you believe that they aren't going to go anywhere.  It's hard to see how they get started and therefore lower the temperature between Israel and Europe.

QUESTION:  Robert (inaudible)?

DANIN:  I just would add a second factor that will exacerbate this even further, which is that, you know, now prior to the election, a number of Palestinians had been worried that Netanyahu is going to win because their fear was rather that Herzog was going to win because the sentence was if Herzog wins, it's not actually going to change anything, but it will—the international community will modulate its approach and try to find a new path with Israel.

And so I think there's a sense in—among the Palestinians today.  I'm actually on my way to Jerusalem.  I'll spend the next couple of days with them and have a better sense.  But I think that there's a sense of now as we saw what (inaudible) comments even last night, you know, they're going to take the (inaudible) as well and try to further discredit that this Israeli government is being an extremist, a right-wing government that cannot be dealt with.

And so, you know, it's going to polarize the situation more so between the Israelis and Palestinians and make whatever diplomatic intervention all the more unlikely difficult albeit maybe even impossible.

QUESTION:  Good.  Thank you.

VOGT:  Next question.

OPERATOR:  OK.  Our next question will come from James Reynolds with Al Jazeera.

QUESTION:  Hey, guys.  Can you hear me?


VOGT:  Yes.

DANIN:  Yes, yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for the briefing today.  I'm interested in the ICC, the International Criminal Court.  We're only a couple of weeks away from the Palestinians actually joining April 1st, I think the date is.  It didn't seem to come out with so much in the election, but given that we know now that Netanyahu is going to be leading the show, what do you think are the implications of this?  Do you think it will be a game-changer?  Do you think the Israelis will fight it?  Obviously, there are a million different legal avenues that can—that can come about, but maybe you can make a few—you know, predictions or observations about that?  Thank you.

DANIN:  Let me just jump in with a few basic ones, and then Elliott I'm sure has better take on many of the details.

I would just say generally speaking I think we're—this, you know, increases the likelihood that we're heading for a confrontation in the International Criminal Court.  The Palestinians know however that this is a double-edged sword for them that's going to also put them on the hook.

You've had the Israeli legal teams on the various ministries, you know, preparing what they may do in—in various legal fora.  I mean, we saw just last month this major landmark decision in a Brooklyn court against the Palestinian—against the PLO rather and the Palestinian Authority.  So the legal challenge is not a one-way street.  It's one in which the Palestinians also have a lot to lose in, and the Palestinians know it.  So we—that said, this is the Middle East, the land of the scorpion and the frog, which means that those sides could wind us getting hurt in this—in this fight.

Elli, do you want to...

VOGT:  Elli, do you have any (inaudible)?

ABRAMS:  I would only add that that—I think that's right and that this is a moment when American diplomacy with the Israelis and Palestinians might be able to do some good to try to diffuse some of this.  I think the mistake that's been made in the last few years, particularly by Secretary Kerry is—is this desperate effort for a final status agreement.  And that was never going anywhere, and I know no Palestinian or Israeli who thought it was, but there is room for active diplomacy here on the part of the United States to try to avoid or at least blunt some of the damage that these confrontations you've seen at Israeli and the P.A. can do to both sides.

VOGT:  Let's take the next question please.

OPERATOR:  OK.  Our next question will come from Howard Koplowitz with International Business Times.

QUESTION:  I have a couple of questions about the joint list, and I was wondering if you could get into, you know, how much of a factor, you know, the Facebook video from social media was cited before.  How much of a factor do you think that was in driving out turnout both like an offer just Netanyahu supporters, but for, you know, the supporters of the Arab parties.

And also in two years from now, could, you know, a prime minister candidate make those kind of comments given, you know, the rise of Israeli Arab parties?

DANIN:  I would just say I think it's probably too soon to tell to, you know, to—they're going to have to pour over this, you know, more to really understand what was behind a lot of this.

I mean, what is important here as I understand has been, you know, first of all, let's, you know, recognize the third largest party that came—that, you know, the first—third strongest party was an  United Air lift.  That was—you know, that's noteworthy, 14 seats they have now.

But what is important though is that they aren't really unified in any way.  They're an umbrella that represents a plethora of views.  They agree on very little other than the fact that they didn't want to be cannibalized by each other and not meet the thresholds to win the—to participate in the election.  So they—they basically hung together in order to get in the Knesset and we're going to see them now scattered in different directions ideologically now that the Knesset meets.  And so what that means is their political power is not going to be all that great as a block except perhaps on some national security issues.

So it's important, it's noteworthy, but it may be appear more significant than it will turn out to be.

VOGT:  What do you think, Elliott?  What do you make of this question about the—what's your take on the—on the Joint Arab List and what it means about the electorate?

ABRAMS:  First, the idea that—the idea that it would increase Arab turnout and seats in the Knesset appears to have been quite smart and it seems to have done that, it may have produced a few leaders.  Mr. Odeh, the head of that list, appeared in a debate, which is the first look that a lot of Israelis got of him and apparently did—did quite well.

The question, I think, Rob is absolutely right, for instance, whether they can hang together even on say economic issues, which are an enormous interest to Israeli-Arabs.  And, you know, we're going to find out.

QUESTION:  You know, I wonder—I sort of want to follow-up on this question because it is an interesting fact that, you know, the third largest block now is this Arab-Israeli block.  Is there—is there some sort of larger connection between that and their performance.

Elliott, you—you had talked a little bit about what it meant, you know, for the Arab countries, the Arab neighbors of Israel.  And, you know, I wonder whether you can elaborate on—on that question a little bit.  Is there any connection there?  And if so, what?

ABRAMS:  Well, we've—I think there isn't much connection between, if you will, the inside and the outside that is...


ABRAMS:  ...Israeli voters were not—including Israeli-Arabs I think we're not voting so much on these issues.

I think Rob is exactly right in saying that in Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership favored in Netanyahu victory because they thought it would keep the American and European pressure on the Israelis rather than shifting it to the Palestinians.

Other Arab capitals, I would suggest, are just as happy or happier with Netanyahu because they are concerned mostly with Israeli foreign policy.  They're not so concerned with Palestinians.  They're not so concerned with Israeli-Arabs, they're concerned with Iran and probably believe that Netanyahu is taking a stronger position on Iran then what side would have taken.

It's worth just adding here that, you know, labor has traditionally won when it had a general at the top like Rabin or Barak.  I don't think there will be an effort to move Herzog right now as chairman of the party partly because there are no other really good candidates right now to be the head of the labor party.  But I wonder if Labor voters will stop again and think, you know, maybe the only way for them to win is with the general (inaudible), so what generals are recently retired, about to retire that could lead them perhaps to victory next time.

VOGT:  Rob, actually just—I want to quickly (inaudible).  I think I saw on Twitter yesterday, you said that you had heard from people in Arab capitals that a sense of what—what Elli was saying that, in fact, people they were happier that Netanyahu had won presumably because the—of the Iran issue.  Is that—is that read—is that your sense as well?

DANIN:  It was astounding. Here, I am in Tel Aviv and I received a call from a friend in an Arab capital just over the moon.  And...

QUESTION:  I think we may temporarily lost Rob, I'm afraid.

DANIN:  (inaudible).

ABRAMS:  But there he is.

DANIN:  Hello.  Can you hear me?

QUESTION:  Hi, yes, Rob.  We lost you there for a second.  The last thing I heard you say was...

DANIN:  Oh, I'm sorry.

QUESTION:  ...that you had heard this friend of yours that called and was over the moon, over Netanyahu's victory.  You cut off after that.

DANIN:  Correct, correct,  And they were—they were over the moon for a few reasons.  I mean, one—yes, has to do with Iran, but it also has to do with the United States because I think that there was a sense that Netanyahu had stood up for the United States.  And look, he had prevailed, and this was impressive.

And this it was (inaudible) from my dear friend.  He's a representative of the sentiments throughout the Sunni world.  So Netanyahu's victory, it was our good was theirs.

I was—I have to say, I was flabbergasted, but this was, you know, the truth is stranger than fixing sometimes.

QUESTION:  And at least in the Middle East.

Let's take the next question from the queue, please.

OPERATOR:  OK, Again, to ask a question, please press star-1.  And our next question comes from Jeremy Diamond with CNN.

QUESTION:  Hi, good morning.  Thank you.  My question to you is a—given what's happened between United States and Israel and Netanyahu and Obama, does Netanyahu have to do something to try and mend those ties, you know, and what could that be?  Does it, you know, perhaps changing the ambassador in the United States?  And could there be any real costs from the White House given Netanyahu's recent posture?

QUESTION:  Elli, do you want to take that one?

ABRAMS:  Well, the ambassador is very—here is very close with Netanyahu.  But the just of ambassador to the United States has always been a decision made jointly by the foreign minister and prime minister.  It may be that the foreign minister changes.

Lieberman did not do well in this election.  He—he has to be part of a—of a right-wing coalition.  They need those votes.  But particularly if somebody else is foreign minister, then—then maybe that person will want someone.  He also knows as—as ambassador here.

I—you know, from Netanyahu's point of view, now I realize the White House will not agree with this, but from Netanyahu's point of view, he is the person who has been sinned against, not sinning who has been treated badly for six years, who was called unprintable names.  Well, actually nowadays they are printable but—by—by the White House.  And so I—you know, he'll want to improve relations.  I'm just not sure whether he will want to sacrifice (inaudible) as a means of doing it.

DANIN:  And I will just add to that, I've just been skeptical that there's any single act or even set of acts right now that could—that will just waive away, you know, the tension and the recommendation entity.  I think this is going to just have to be managed, and I think both sides are going to want to manage it for their own—their own reasons, but I don't think there's any sense of a single aspect and rectify it.  And I don't think either one probably sees an interest in being overly magnanimous.  They will be responsible or at least try to be, but I don't think either size is going to go out of—you know, too far to make any drastic changes in policy in order to change, you know, to create a new, you know, alignment.

I think we're going to just see a continued friction and tension, but perhaps at a reduced—at a reduced volume.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you both one quick follow-up on that, you know, as 2016 approaches and the election piece starts to appear.  Do you think that that's going to have an impact on this?  I mean, we saw in the last selection sort of 2012, there was a sense that Netanyahu was kind of pooling for Rami trying to do anything he could to help Rami in this election.  Of course, in Israel, Netanyahu accused, you know, Obama kind of—trying to affect the outcome with this former aide of his, Mr. Byrd (ph) and Israel of helping this campaign—this NT—Netanyahu campaign.

Of course, it's a long history of American political posters and campaign managers, and Politico is working on Israeli politics.  And I guess, there's some history of Israeli politicians attempting to inject themselves with at least a little bit into American politics perhaps not—never quite as much as Netanyahu did just recently.  You know, what do you make of that?  What—do you think this is going to come out in the 2016 campaign?  Are we going to see more of this kind of—this question about influencing the countries to politics?

ABRAMS:  Well, I don't think so.  I think that it is in the interest of the Democratic Party in the United States and of Netanyahu to try to argue that this is an Obama problem, that the Democratic Party is as—from a Democrats' point of view, to argue that the Democratic Party is strongly supportive of Israeli are the Republican party.  And I think you would see—assuming that Clinton is the nominee, you would see here move back from a confrontation of this sort of has had.  It's not in her interest to do otherwise.

I think from Netanyahu's point of view also, it is helpful to him to reach out to Democrats.  Perhaps he used the Obama administration as a lost cause, that doesn't mean he views Clinton for Democratic leaders in Congress as a lot cost at all.  So I think this is more likely to be—to be limited to the Obama White House that's in the interest of people that both in Israel and here.

DANIN:  I would agree with that.  I just got one other point to keep in mind, you know, Netanyahu just won a big victory.  Why?

(Inaudible) political best experiences were self-inflicted.  He was the one who called the elections.  He was the one who look like he was going to down and defeat.  He was the one who pulled out all the stocks in order to prevent it.

I think there is a sense, one, here that Netanyahu recognizes.  He made some big mistakes.  He was able to pull it out.  But I—he's not someone who's naturally reckless.  He's—as Elli pointed out earlier, his reputation here in Israel at least is one as, if anything overly cautious not reckless.  And so I don't think you're going to see further bold actions from Mr. Netanyahu in the short-term vis-a-vis the United States.

And as we discussed earlier, he's got a lot of work to do at home.  And to the extent that Iran is going to be on his agenda, he knows that working with the United States is going to be important.  So, you know, just to add to what Elliott would say.

ABRAMS:  Sure.

VOGT:  OK.  I think we have one more question if we can—if we can go to that please.

OPERATOR:  Yes, Sir.  Our next question will come from Martin Bechard (ph) with Information Newspaper of Denmark.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  Thanks for doing this.  It's been very interesting.  I had a question about Iran (inaudible) to.  So I think that what this victory of Netanyahu will mean if he is a—form a new government that's (inaudible) as Mr. Elliott describes, what will it mean of the outcome of these negotiations on Iran?

ABRAMS:  Well, look at the other side of this question.  Suppose that Netanyahu had been defeated by six seats, that it seems to me would have been in a sense of victory of Obama over Netanyahu or so (inaudible) by a lot of people that would have to some extent reduce the strength of critics of the yield that seems to be coming together, right?  It seems to me that the size of the Netanyahu victory, the sense that, you know, he had a big victory tends to strengthen critics of the potential deal.  And so I think that you would see here—I think you would see in the Arab world, in Israel and in the United States no lessening of the criticism of the terms that appear likely to be in—(inaudible) is reached.

DANIN:  If I can just add to that, you know, in discussions here with national security types who were aligned with Mr. Herzog, their mind was that the Netanyahu analysis and critique of the emerging deal is correct.  There's not a divergence of opinion here about that.  So there was a divergence about ultimately how you deal with the United States in managing the Iran problem.  But when it comes to the Iran threat and the deal that is emerging, I'd say there's a near wall-to-wall consensus that the deal that appears to be coming is one that is not good for Israel.

VOGT:  Rob, let me—let me follow-up on that a little bit because it—how far does that consensus go?  And I guess, this gets in a question of the intention to the Israeli leadership.  There are maybe consensus that the deal doesn't do what—what most Israelis want, which is essentially to end Iran's uranium enrichment all together and essentially eliminate any chance that Iran could—could move towards the nuclear weapons capability.

But once—once you get past that, which, you know, to many analysts seems like quite a reach.  Where would the—is it safe to say that there's not exactly consensus on whether, for example, is real, you should try unilaterally to—to eliminate Iran's enrichment capacity.  What, you know, once you get over the fact that, well, they don't like the deal, is there still consensus at this point, has there really been a collapsing of any—of any distinction between left and right in Israel on that question?

DANIN:  Well, I would say that there's a sense that that, A, they have been allowed in the emerging deal elements that should not be allowed, that is enrichment—continued enrichment, the idea that there is a sunset clause.

There is a sense that with the tax (inaudible) has been employed have reduced the deterrent power of—of the negotiators.  That is to say that the perception—Israel felt that it was playing a constructive role and the United States would play a constructive role by threatening military force combined with sanctions, and that this had had an effect on the Iranian leadership enforcing them at the negotiating table.  And this would be the only way to force them to produce the kind of concessions that may be required.

They believe now that that threat has been largely taken off the table and that this has then enhanced the Iranian's negotiating leverage.  And so therefore, it's more about the means of the deal, and so they feel that if you have a weak process to deal then there's no way you're going to get the kind of deal that is going to be acceptable.

VOGT:  Let me—Elli, let me—let me pivot off that to ask you, if—let's say what—what looks to be happening is it happens, in other words, a deal of this—let's say that it actually works out against—perhaps against the odds.  Let's say a deal at the time that we have read about goes forward, there's a sunset cause.  It doesn't completely eliminate Iran's uranium enrichment capacity.  How do you see this new Netanyahu government responding to that new reality if, in fact, that happens?

ABRAMS:  Well, Netanyahu now that he has another—at least, by the book, he's got another four years.  It seems to me he's got two options, one of which is to wait for the next American election and see if the next American president takes a tougher line on Iran.  The other of which is, of course, to—to strike Iran, although, you know, we can also wait for two years and see if there's an American government that's more friendly toward the idea of an Israeli strike.  But he's not going to say, "Well, you know, we'll just—this deal is fine and it doesn't present any problems.

I think he and the Arab governments are going to say it's a bad deal and it's a dangerous deal.  There's not much they can do about it really.  That's the thing except wait and see if, you know—wait and see if there is, for example, a Republican government—a Republican executive branch in the United States that changes the American policy toward Iran or they can act themselves, right?

VOGT:  All right.  Well, on that note, we are actually going to wrap it up.  Thank you so much to Elliott Abrams and...

ABRAMS:  Thank you.

VOGT:  ...Robert Danin.  And thank you to all our callers.  You'll be able to find a transcript of this call at afterwards, and look forward to speaking to you all again next week as we see how this all unfolds.

DANIN:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Thanks.

VOGT:  Thank you very much.  Bye.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  This concludes today's teleconference and you may now disconnect.


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