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Michael Oren. photo by Rhonda Spivak


March 17, 2015



[Note: When this article was written exit polls showed Likud and Zionist Union virtually tied. but as results came in , it's clear that Netanyahu 's Likud has won about 30 seats to Zionist Union's 24, which means it almost certain Netanyahu will be Prime Minister, with Moshe Kahalon's Kulanu party joining him .However, the analysis below re Michael Oren is important-Oren is in favour of a unilateral withdrawal if need be. That cannot be squared with Netanyahu's statement the day of the election (designed to bring right wing voters in droves to vote fro him) that there will be no Palestinain state under his watch.]

With early Israeli election results coming in (based on exit polls) ,  in order to form a right wing national government (as opposed to a unity government with the Zionnist Union's  Herzog and Livni) Benjamin Netanyahu will in all likelihood  need to have Mosh Kahalan's new Kulanu party (which received 10 seats) in his coalition. If the most important thing for Moshe Kahalon is dealing with the economy , and becoming finance minister then presumably he will join Netanyahu. And if Kahalon will join with him, Netanyahu will be Israel's Prime Minister.End of story. (The Times of Israel is predicting that this will be the most likely scenario, since Kahalon would have a lot of influence in Netanyahu's narrower government, and could threaten to leave if his positions weren't adopted) 
 But, there's another possibility, which relates to the number 4 on Kulanu's list, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael  Oren. Oren has spoken publicly about the need to repair Israel's relationship with the  United States (he  called on Netanyahu to cancel his congress speech), and Oren has repeatedly in the last 14 months put forth a proposal of   a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank if negotiations with the Palestinians fail to lead to a two state solution.  Oren has said that if the Palestinians are going to advance their unilateral effort to achieve statehood by applying to dozens of international organizations, targeting Israel's economy through sanctions, then Israel should consider Plan B: A unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, thereby declaring its own borders. No one really knows if Kahalon completely agrees with Oren, but  if he does or could be convinced, then it's possible that Kahalon would refuse to sit with Netanyahu in a right wing coalition, and may instead say he will only sit in a national unity government with Netanyahu's Likud and Zionist Union's Herzog. If  Kahalon adopted this position, there would have to be a national unity government, as it is virtually impossible for either Herzog or Netanyahu to form a government without Kahalon's Kulanu Party. And moreover, President Rivlin, (who dislikes Netanyahu, which is why Netanyahu did his best to ensure Rivlin did not become President) has already said after the early election results, he will work towards a national unity government. So Rivlin himself might try to convince Kahalon of this.
In an important article written over a month ago by Evelyn Gordon , that most people probably didn't notice Gordon noted that although this issue was barely talked about (purposely , she says) , it may be that this election was about the issue of unilateral withdrawal. She wrote that  someone of Michael Oren's stature " – a former ambassador to Washington and acclaimed historian" is "unlikely to have joined any party [Kulanu], much less a brand-new, untested one, without assurance that his flagship policy [unilateral withdrawal]would be on the table."  I agree with Gordon.
Oren told the  Times of Israel that  if Palestinians take unilateral actions for statehood "Israelis would be ill advised to sit around and wait for the Palestinians to corner them. If we declare our borders, that creates a de-facto situation of two nation states recognized by the UN — we may not recognize one another, but they’re already recognized by the UN — that have a border dispute. And we would be one of dozens of pairs of countries in the world that have a border dispute.” He added that even after Israel unilaterally declared its borders, it could still say that it was interested in reaching a final peace deal, under which border adjustments could be possible, he added. 
What is also significant is the  the Zionist Union's main diplomatic security figure who joined the party for this election is Amos Yadlin. As Gordon wrote 
"Yadlin is probably Israel’s leading advocate of unilateral withdrawal. He has used his current post as head of the Institute for National Security Studies to push the idea relentlessly, in forums ranging from briefings for Israeli reporters to articles in prestigious American journals. And it’s highly unlikely that someone of Yadlin’s stature – a former director of Military Intelligence who now heads one of Israel’s most prestigious think tanks – would agree to be any party’s candidate without assurance that his flagship policy would be on the table." 
So let's go over this. If Michael Oren convinces Kahalon that Kulanu ough to adopt  unilateral withdrawal as a Plan B if negotiations with the Palestinians fail (as they likely will), then Kulanu may well want to ensure that the Zionist Union (formerly Labour and Hatnuah) ought to be in the coalition.  Kahalon could still be a finance Minister in a  National Unity government (possibly with a rotation of  Netanyahu and Herzog taking turns as Prime Minister). This is no doubt Netanyahu's nightmare.If Kahalon insisted on a national unity government, then Netanyahu would need to get Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party into the coalition--which could proved very difficult, and not attainable due to Yesh Atid's animosity toward the religious parties and Netanyahu.
Will  Oren convince Kahalon that the most important issues on the table for Israel are mending ties with the US and a consideration of unilateral withdrawal to combat Palestinian unilateral moves?  I, myself, am not a fan of unilateral withdrawal. But Oren is. If he can convince Kahalon of this, or if he already has behind the scenes, then Oren could be far more important than most people realize. If not, then it is very difficult to see how michael Oren's unilateral withdrawal platform could ever gain any steam in a Netanyahu led National camp rightist government.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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