Likud or Likudn't?

Netanyahu's Speech and the Israeli Election

Netanyahu meets U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2015. Gary Cameron / Courtesy Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on the Iranian nuclear program went about as expected. The only new elements were the requirements that Netanyahu called on Washington to impose on Iran before sanctions are lifted: an end to aggression in the Middle East; an end to support for international terrorism; and an end to threats to annihilate Israel.

The question is what will happen next. Contrary to some of the handwringing in Washington and Israel, it is doubtful that a serious downgrading of the U.S.-Israeli alliance is in the offing. The partnership is built on much more than the personal relationship between one president and one prime minister. It is possible, however, that the Obama administration will be less interested in hearing Netanyahu’s concerns about the substance of any final deal with Iran.

On the U.S. side, the visit has, of course, exacerbated divisions within the American Jewish community. But what about the Israeli side? Many observers accuse Netanyahu of using the speech to drum up support in the upcoming Israeli election. But even there, his talk will probably matter very little. Israeli voters prefer a close, well-functioning U.S.-Israeli relationship, and Israeli commentators have highlighted Netanyahu’s role in complicating it. But historically, concerns that an incumbent candidate has undermined the U.S.-Israeli relationship aren’t the primary worry on poll day. Nor has any candidate ever won an election on the strength of his or her “pro-U.S.” credentials.

The closest comparisons are Yitzhak Shamir’s loss in 1992 and Netanyahu’s defeat in 1999. In both cases, there were several other prominent issues at stake, making U.S.-Israeli relations only one concern among many—and certainly not the deciding factor.

In 1992, incumbent Prime Minister Shamir lost a reelection bid over domestic problems, not over Israel’s relationship with the United States.

There was widespread concern regarding the public spat with U.S. President George H. W. Bush. But Israelis were

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