President Obama is apparently in no rush to congratulate his frenemy Benjamin Netanyahu on his re-election as prime minister of Israel.
According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, “Obama will call Netanyahu to congratulate him on his Likud party’s election win in the coming days,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
Netanyahu has already received well wishes via social media from U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (in English and Hebrew), and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who said “I congratulate PM Netanyahu on his election results. We look fwd to working w/ the gov’t once formed. Israel has no greater friend than Cda.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did apparently call Netanyahu after the election, however.
Earlier this morning, a White House aide specifically avoided issuing any congrats to Israel’s leader, instead saying that “We want to congratulate the Israeli people for the democratic process for the election that they just engaged in with all the parties that engaged in that election. As you know now, the hard work of coalition building begins. Sometimes that takes a couple of weeks. And we’re going to give space to the formation of that coalition government and we’re not going to weigh in one way or another except to say that the United States and Israel have a historic and close relationship and that will continue going forward.”
Although the U.S. and Israel — the only functioning, multicultural democracy in the Middle East — are traditional allies, the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has been chilly. The two leaders have rhetorically sparred on many issues, not the least of which was the appropriateness of the prime minister’s speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3, where he warned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Obama administration’s weak dealmaking.
On Twitter, former key Obama advisor David Axelrod attributed Netanyahu’s win to “shameful 11th hour demagoguery.”
A U.S. Senate committee is currently probing whether Obama political operatives through an organization called the Victory 15 campaign tried (unsuccessfully) to oust Netanyahu from office, possibly using taxpayer money.
News media and pollsters consistently considered “Bibi” Netanyahu’s center-right Likud Party a sure loser against the left-wing Zionist Union and its leader, Isaac Herzog, but that prediction proved wholly incorrect. Likud needed to win the enough sets in Israel’s fragmented parliament to form a coalition with smaller right-wing parties to keep Netanyahu in the top job, as there is no direct voting for prime minister in Israel. Reacting to the results, the Jewish Press claimed that “If the media hadn’t invested itself in trying to oust Netanyahu, general voter apathy might have actually done the job for them. But when the Israeli people saw that the Left might actually come back to power, because of the media, that was enough to wake the sleeping giant.”
With virtually all ballots counted by now, the Likud list appears to have captured 29 or 30 seats, with the Zionist Union underperforming at 24. The Arab list finished third. Exit polls yesterday suggested that Likud and the Zionist Union were neck and neck. With these results, it appears that Netanyahu will encounter little difficulty forming a government to give him a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Obama, who took the time to fill out his March Madness brackets on ESPN this week, has a history of promptly congratulating other world leaders on their electoral wins, including those with dismal human rights records such as Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, Iran’s Rouhani, Russia’s Putin, Egypt’s Morsi (subsequently deposed), and China’s Xi Jinping, PJ Media noted.
Describing Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory as a St. Patrick’s Day Miracle, Breitbart News observed that “The real loser is President Barack Obama, who undoubtedly hoped for a poor showing by Netanyahu. And the even bigger loser is the Iranian regime, who will now face an emboldened Israeli leader who made the case for his re-election on the grounds of strong public opposition to the generous terms of the nuclear deal that Obama is negotiating with Iran.”
[Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images News]