Looking into my crystal ball for 2012, here’s what I see:
Binyamin Netanyahu: He will continue to successfully hug the center of Israeli politics and maintain a stable coalition, with no need for new elections or for reckless diplomatic initiatives. His greatest challenge will come from the Ultra Orthodox who feel simultaneously emboldened and threatened, and will ramp up their financial demands when it comes time to negotiate the 2013 budget.
Shelly Yehimovich: The most interesting and unpredictable party leader in Israeli politics. Believe it or not, she is now reaching out with social-economic messaging to religious voters and settlers in order to broaden Labor’s base. She clearly eclipses Tzippy Livni. Can she also overshadow Yair Lapid, and raise real campaign money?
Aryeh Deri: He threatens to steal half of Shas voters from Eli Yishai if he runs for election independently, and will force Yishai to shift ever more to the religious right in order to distinguish himself from Deri. Unfortunately, that means that Shas will back away from supporting marriage reform (the Tzohar law), and any liberalizing changes in conversion procedures.
Avigdor Lieberman: Since the Attorney General decided not to prosecute MK Hanin Zoabi of Balad for her participation in the infamous flotilla – which should have been a slam dunk indictment – I bet that he will decide also not to proceed with an indictment of Lieberman. It’s only fair. This will fuel Israel Beiteinu’s next election campaign, and Netanyahu will look to solidify his alliance with Lieberman.
Mahmoud Abbas: The cardboard leader of the Palestinian “Authority” will continue to hunker down behind UN initiatives aimed at isolating and condemning Israel, while authorizing only marginal, meaningless “peace talks” with Israel. The world will continue to coddle Abbas, despite his intransigence. Hamas-Fatah talks will serve to strengthen Hamas’ standing within Palestinian institutions and society. When the IDF takes action against the Hamas in Gaza, Abbas will be trapped and lose whatever remaining credibility he has with Israelis and Palestinians.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: If we’re lucky, the Iranian leader’s cockiness and bluster will trip him into a shooting war with the US in the Straits of Hormuz or elsewhere in the Gulf. If we’re less lucky, he’ll make steady but quiet progress in nuclear enrichment and weaponization, while bamboozling the EU with endless negotiations. Israel will hold back from a direct military confrontation with Iran, until there are changes in Washington or the Iranians foolishly go for a nuclear breakout.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi: Field Marshal Tantawi, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces which took power last February after Mubarak was unseated, will maneuver backwards and forwards to keep a lid on the Islamists in parliament and in the streets. Presidential elections will be postponed repeatedly. If Tantawi gets backing from the US and the EU (unlike Mubarak), along with massive foreign aid, he stands half a chance of succeeding. For our sake, I wish him luck.
Bashar Assad: He’ll be lucky to live out his days in a Russian or Chinese retirement dacha – if he is smart enough to get out alive soon. One year from now, Syria could easily be sundered into five independent states: Alawite in the west, Kurdish in the north-east, Druze in the south, Bedouin in the east, with Aleppo a separate city-state. For us, this is preferable to the continuation of the Assad regime – which has partnered with Iran, North Korea and Hezbollah. (Another scenario is that Turkey occupies much of Syria and facilitates the rise to power of an Islamic regime…)
Barack Hussein Obama: He’ll get “only” 68 percent of the Jewish vote in this November’s presidential elections, instead of the 78 percent he won in 2008. Oy, what are we going to do with American Jews…..?
Jerusalem: Who is going to be the first major Western country to move its embassy to western Jerusalem? After all, no-one disputes that western Jerusalem is and will be Israel’s capital in the context of any peace treaty with the Palestinians. Announcement of such a move could be billed as a recognition of reality (as well as friendship to Israel), and could be accompanied by a disclaimer statement that (country: fill in the blank) “does not at this point take any position of the disposition of eastern Jerusalem, whose sovereignty will still be subject to negotiation.” Any takers?