With Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. presidential elections blowing wind into their sails, there are some in Israel speculating that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni will make an attempt to return to government.
Olmert, who is currently in the U.S. and is expected to return to Israel this week, is thought to have waited for the U.S. election results before deciding whether to return to politics after resigning in 2009, due to immense pressure following corruption charges. Apart from being convicted on one charge of breach of trust, and despite facing a possible appeal against his acquittal, Olmert still faces legal challenges in the Holyland real estate affair.
Olmert, it is thought, will seek to strike a deal with current Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz and return to the party, since by law it is already too late to form a new party. Current polls show that Kadima will not pass the electoral threshold and will be wiped out in the Jan. 22 Israeli election.
Olmert and Livni met last Wednesday to coordinate their positions and released a statement following their discussion saying, "The current government must be replaced."
Both the Kadima and Yesh Atid parties attacked the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what they perceive as his preference for Romney.
In an official statement Kadima said it was "happy for Obama," although it is "concerned for Israel."
"By betting on the wrong president, Bibi [Netanyahu] got us into trouble with the U.S," read the statement, which was issued on Wednesday morning.
"Israel cannot afford to forego its bond with the U.S. just because Bibi cannot get along with Obama; Israel's security should never be part of a wager; Israel cannot afford to have a prime minister who has become persona non grata at the White House," the statement continued.
Yair Lapid, a popular journalist who left his job at the Channel 2 Friday night news magazine to enter politics less than a year ago, congratulated Obama for his victory on Tuesday.
A statement released by his party, Yesh Atid ["There is a Future"] said the party calls on the president to "stand by his explicit promise to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and to jump-start talks between Israel and the Palestinians as soon as possible."
"The gridlocked peace process in the Middle East threatens the region's stability," the statement read.
The party also expressed hope Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "takes immediate action to repair the damaged relations with the U.S. administration," explaining that "throughout the U.S. campaign the prime minister acted in a way that came across as over-the-top meddling on behalf of the Republican nominee; this is foreign to the way the two countries have normally interacted with each other; undoing the damage inflicted by such irresponsible conduct is of paramount importance to Israel."
Deputy Knesset Speaker Shlomo (Neguse) Molla (Kadima) echoed his party's statement, saying that "Netanyahu's meddling and efforts to have Mitt Romney win have hurt Israel." Molla explained that Netanyahu's conduct was "mind-boggling and condescending."
"This will ultimately have the effect of compromising the strategic relations between the two states; as has been stated before, Netanyahu not only lost his bet, he was also disgraced," Molla continued. "In these elections voters had to weigh-in on issues the Republicans' have ignored: minorities, the have-nots, the super-rich. Does this sound familiar? It is quite obvious that the results of the U.S. elections will have an effect on Israel and I hope that the Right will do its homework here too. I would strongly advise the prime minister to ask for Barack Obama's forgiveness and to do some real and meaningful soul-searching."
Appearing at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro said Obama's relations with Netanyahu will not be affected by any personal disputes the two may have had during his first term, calling the re-elected president a "strategic thinker. "His policies are not governed by emotion,” he said. “Anyone who knows the president understands that this is not how he thinks.”
Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz congratulated Obama on Wednesday and praised the "fascinating democratic process undertaken by a superpower comprising 300 million people through their unique system." Katz said the U.S., as the leader of the free world is "a great ally" of Israel and predicted that the two countries' joint interests will be well-served by Obama's re-election. Katz, who was speaking on Israel Radio, was responding to the question on whether he would have preferred a Romney victory.
Deflecting criticism that Netanyahu tried to influence the U.S. election, Katz said that the prime minister simply expressed his views on Iran throughout the campaign, as he has "immense responsibility to protect the entire Jewish people."
"Prime Minister Netanyahu pursued a specific policy on Iran that represented the right approach; toward the end of Obama's first term both countries' views on Iran were strikingly similar," Katz said, noting that Obama's recent U.N. address was consistent with the core tenets of Israel's policy on Iran as well. "Our joint approach resulted in a very tough policy on Iran that reflected the right, mutually-agreed formula on the matter," Katz said.
Asked if Obama might want to intervene in the upcoming Israeli elections because of Netanyahu's alleged interference in the effort to unseat the president, Katz said "Israelis have the liberty to vote for whomever they want and evaluate the candidates based on their record."
Vice Prime Minister and Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom was one of the first to comment on the election results, appearing on Israel Radio early Wednesday morning. Sounding an upbeat note, Shalom said Obama's experience in the Oval Office might spare the region of the learning curve a new administration would have experienced and categorically denied the assertion that Israel might have tried to affect the results of the elections.
He said the U.S. administration was well aware of Iran's nuclear ambitions and knows Israel did its utmost to resume talks with the Palestinians." The Israel-U.S. bond is robust and is based on shared principles," Shalom told Israel Radio. He then dismissed the claim that a Netanyahu victory in the upcoming Israeli elections might put the Israeli premier on a collision course with Obama because of their alleged personal animosity. "International relations are not based on vendettas or personal relationships, but rather on joint interests and values," Shalom stated.
Head of the Yesha Council, Dani Dayan, whose organization serves as the umbrella body of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria (and until the 2005 pullout, in the Gaza Strip as well) told Israel Radio on Wednesday that Romney's defeat saddened him because the Republican nominee's understanding of the Israeli-Arab conflict was "immensely superior" to that of Obama. "The settlement enterprise is a fait accompli; a Palestinian state would never come into being," Dayan said.