Saturday, December 1, 2012

Opinion: Olmert's Chances of Defeating Netanyahu - 'Wishful Thinking'

"Should Olmert decide to re-enter the political game, we will be in for a contentious, perhaps dramatic campaign. Those in Washington hoping for a Netanyahu defeat, however, are likely to be disappointed," writes Natan B. Sachs, researcher for Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

"It's one of Washington's worst kept secrets: President Barack Obama's administration would prefer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lose the Israeli elections in January 2013.. In theory, a Netanyahu defeat is not beyond the realm of possibility. He is popular in Israel but not loved, trusted as prime minister but not revered. His command in the polls is steady -- essentially undisturbed since he took office in 2009 -- but not overwhelming. He appears to have suffered somewhat from the inconclusive outcome of the recent military operation in Gaza -- though if he lost any votes, they were to the right rather than the center, meaning that his electoral bloc remains intact. Among his biggest assets is a lack of viable alternatives: The leaders of the two largest parties in the current opposition are either too unpopular (Kadima's Shaul Mofaz) or too inexperienced (Labor's Shelly Yacimovich) to credibly challenge him. 

"Little wonder, therefore, that eyes have been fixed on potential new entrants to the political arena -- or, as is often the case in Israeli politics, recycled entrants. The return of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been the most anticipated of these political earthquakes: Merely four years after leaving office under indictment for corruption charges (of which he was largely acquitted, pending appeal) Olmert appears to be the only man capable of mounting a serious challenge to Netanyahu.

"In truth, however, his chances of defeating Netanyahu remain lower than wishful thinkers in Washington may like to believe. His imminent announcement on whether he runs is therefore unlikely to alter the outcome of the elections.."