Netanyahu Competing Against His Own Right In Upcoming Election

Robert Siegel talks to Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and columnist for Bloomberg View, about the stir his column caused regarding Obama's private comment, "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are."

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

More now on the Israeli election from Atlantic magazine national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg. He's in Amman, Jordan. He's there for a reporting trip to cover both the Jordanian and Israeli elections next week. His column in Bloomberg News this week called "Israel Doesn't Know What Its Best Interests Are" caused a stir in Israel this week just days before the election, and he joins us now. Jeffrey, what did that title mean, first of all?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Well, that's a quote from President Obama, who has said that repeatedly in recent weeks privately to different groupings of people. And what he means by that is that the settlement policies that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu are pursuing run counter to his vision of what Israel should be doing to preserve itself as a Jewish majority democracy.

SIEGEL: Now, given the potential coalition partners that Benjamin Netanyahu sees to his right, it would only appear that policies of annexation would get more aggressive. Do you see that as well?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think if you're a settler, you're feeling pretty good about this election. Netanyahu has been very explicit about saying that there will be no bulldozers coming for any settlements whatsoever. And remember, he's competing right now, not against the left, as he used to compete, but he's competing against his own right.

The party called the Jewish Home Party run by Naftali Bennett is surging. It came from nowhere to become a very powerful force, at least in the polls. And they're appealing to the same settler base. So the settlers should be very happy at this moment.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Goldberg, if, in fact, Israeli politics were to toughen up on the West Bank and leaves still less room for any possible Palestinian state there, do Israelis assume that their relationship with Washington would be unaffected by that?

GOLDBERG: That's the key question. Obviously, there are people in the center in Israel, on the left in Israel who are warning that you can't keep pursuing these policies counter to the vision that Barack Obama has for the Middle East and not expect some sort of consequence. Now, we're not talking about a consequence like cutting aid or stopping or lowering military support, but there are a lot of ways that Israel is dependent on the United States.

And after a while, I think you're going to see some impact in the relationship. On the right, they're arguing that Israel is an independent country and should do whatever it wants to do. And on the left, they're saying, hey, let's deal with reality, which is America is our best friend and, increasingly, our only friend.

SIEGEL: There are polls which show that most Israelis favor a two-state solution to their problems with the Palestinians. How do you reconcile that information with policies which don't seem to go in that direction at all?

GOLDBERG: Well, you're dealing with a highly theoretical concept at the moment, and this is where it becomes difficult for Israel. Israelis don't see - and they have good reason not to see a viable Palestinian partner for peace. After all, the Palestinian political movement is divided between Hamas and Gaza and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. Hamas is obviously opposed to the existence of the state of Israel.

You don't see strong leadership on the Palestinian side, and so a lot of Israelis are saying, hey, you know what, we pulled out of Gaza in 2005, we pulled all our settlements out and our soldiers, and Hamas filled the vacuum, so we're not going to go down that road again. However, if a more viable Palestinian leadership emerged and if the Israeli government encouraged that through action, I think you would see a shift in - those people who are saying they want a two-state option do represent the majority. They just don't believe that it's possible right now, I think, is a fair way to put it.

SIEGEL: So just another Israeli election or one that's more of a watershed than others?

GOLDBERG: Well, they're all the most crucial election of our time, right?

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

GOLDBERG: But this one does seem to suggest that Israel is making a rightward shift. The left parties and the center parties will still get a significant chunk of the vote. What's most interesting to me is that the right-wing block has become more right wing. In other words, the policies that it's advancing are much more right wing than the policies it advanced four years ago.

This is not to say that it's going to get the overwhelming majority of Israeli voters. It's just that those people who do vote for them are voting for something that's much more right wing than it used to be.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine, thanks for talking with us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

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