It may be too soon to say who won the election in Israel but it’s not too soon to say who lost — President Obama. The President threw his personal prestige, and that of his office, into undermining and defeating Prime Minister Netanyahu. Acolytes of the president were thronging to an electioneering operation called V15 in the hopes of delivering the premiership to anyone but the leader of the Likud.
That was the least of it. Mr. Obama gave Mr. Netanyahu the cold shoulder when the prime minister came to town to address a joint meeting of Congress. He belittled the speech. To describe Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Obama’s aides used gutter language never before used by an American presidency in respect of a foreign ally. Yet as the exit polling comes in, it looks like Mr. Netanyahu made a fool of the pollsters and may well have gained a new mandate.
No one would call it a landslide, and the final election results could always bring in a surprise. This point is being made by nearly every analyst, and the potential king maker in the race to form a coalition — Moshe Kahlon of Kulanu — is playing his cards close to his vest, saying, according to the Jerusalem post, that his decision will depend on official ballot results. A center-right figure, he eyes the finance ministry, at least for now.
More broadly though, it looks like what happened is that a hardheaded electorate, in a vibrant democracy, endorsed two broadly centrist factions. Mr. Netanyahu of Likud and Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union both were buoyed by that instinct. So, as we see it, no matter what happens, Mr. Obama’s attempt to paint Mr. Netanyahu as a marginal, rejectionist figure is shown for what it is — a mark of disrespect for Israel itself. He should have stood on the sidelines.
Will Mr. Obama concede his error? One thing for Americans to keep in mind as the maneuvering begins is that neither the right of center nor the left of center Israeli faction is enthusiastic about the Obama-Kerry negotiations with Iran. The pact is being called by the American editor of Israel’s leading liberal newspaper, Haaretz, in an interview on MSNBC, a deal “which most Israelis are opposed to.” No matter how it turns out, the thing for Mr. Obama to do would be to credit and to work with whoever is given a mandate by the Mideast’s only real democracy.