There is much speculation that this kerfluffle over 1,600 theoretical apartments on the wrong side of the green line in Jerusalem will lead to a rupture in American-Israeli relations, but analysts who suggest this are missing the point of President Obama’s maneuverings. I’ve been on the phone with many of the usual suspects (White House and otherwise), and I think it’s fair to say that Obama is not trying to destroy America’s relations with Israel; he’s trying to organize Tzipi Livni’s campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government. I’m not actually suggesting that the White House is directly meddling in internal Israeli politics, but it’s clear to everyone — at the White House, at the State Department, at Goldblog — that no progress will be made on any front if Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Eli Yishai’s fundamentalist Shas Party, remain in Netanyahu’s surpassingly fragile coalition.
So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset that does not have to rely on gangsters, messianists and medievalists for votes. It’s up to Livni, of course, to recognize that it is in Israel’s best interests to join a government with Netanyahu and Barak, and I, for one, hope she puts the interests of Israel ahead of her own ambitions.
Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.